NASA and the U.S. space program face a rocky future. In the short-term, the agency’s budget is a prime target for budget cutting, and it already was cut last year. Further reductions are a certainty, as NASA is part of that “domestic discretionary” slice of the budget that Republicans love to slash. While non-defense domestic discretionary spending amounts to 15% of the federal budget, as this interactive chart shows, the portion spent on space flight, research, and supporting activities is less than ½ of 1% of the total budget, about $30 billion per year. NASA spends about 2/3 of that $30b. This may not be much compared to the $700b+ spent on Social security or defense, but it will remain a target.
Beyond budget cutting, NASA and the U.S. space program face a host of other issues and uncertainties, not the least of which is stalled public support for their mission. I’ll open the meeting on Thursday by briefly listing what NASA does and its plans for the future. Then I’ll list a few of the big dilemmas facing our space program, beyond just the budget axe.
Then, I’ll open it up to Ron, whose idea this was.
- UPDATE Here is a quick summary of Obama’s space exploration policy. It changed and pared down Bush’ policy, which many thought grandiose and unrealistic.
- What does NASA do? Four things: Exploration, space station, aeronautics (R&D), and scientific research.
- Deficit cutting threatens to derail many programs, especially commercialization plans.
- Big shift: NASA under Obama is trying to create a commercial (private sector) space exploration industry. This may soon include a privately built and operated unmanned Mars
- Fears of decline at NASA now that the shuttle program ended and big ideas are absent.
I sent a press release announcing this meeting to several local scientific organizations. Maybe someone will come and join the discussion.