Keith Cowing noted yesterday the Washington Post’s article about the Obama Administration’s proposed budget for NASA and that it did nothing to close the gap between the retirement of the Shuttle in 2011 and first launch of the Orion/Ares I in 2015. He closed with a comment that the Democratic controlled Congress had not created the “Gap”, that the Gap was created in 2004 when then-President Bush initiated the Vision for Space Exploration (VSE).
Well, yes and no. Many partisans like things black and white. But the reality is that there is plenty of blame for the Gap to go around.
When President Bush proposed his new Space plan for NASA, there was a gap between the retirement of the Shuttle and first flight of Orion of about 2 years. Unfortunately, neither then-NASA Administrator Sean O’Keefe and Associate Administrator Craig Steidle had any Space experience. And nobody at NASA had managed a new manned Space program in a generation. So between trying to figure out how to implement the new VSE and the architecture to get their, many months were lost so that by the time Mike Griffin was named NASA Administrator on March 11, 2005, about a year had been added-on to the Gap, making it 3 years.
When the Democratic Party took control of the House and Senate in 2006 from the Republicans, who had not finished any of the funding bills for the 2007 fiscal year but one (DOD), Rep. Charles Rangel, Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee and the Democratic Leadership decided that it was best to just pass a continuing resolution to fund at 2006 levels those parts of the federal government not already appropriated through spending bills(link). A continuing resolution for a budget means that the previous year’s budget becomes the present year’s. And what that meant was that NASA saw a budget decrease of $545 million.
NASA’s budget for 2008 was $17.3 billion and was a slight increase over what it had requested, but Congress none-the-less cut $81.8 million from the exploration budget, which pays for Constellation, or mainly Ares I and Orion.
Nobody can argue that the biggest contributor to the growing Gap has been a lack of follow-through on promised funding first by President Bush, the Democratic Congress and now by President Obama. As the saying goes, “No bucks, no Buck Rogers.
For his proposed 2010 budget, President Obama wants $18.7 billion for NASA. In addition, NASA received $1.02 billion in the Stimulus Bill, $400 million of which went to the exploration program. Some are arguing, desperately, that this $2.4 billion increase over 2008 funding fulfils President Obama’s pledge to funding NASA by an additional $2 billion. What’s missing is in the fine print. When then-candidate Obama made that statement in a speech on August 3, 2008, he wasn’t talking about the full NASA budget getting $2 billion, but the exploration program so that the then 4-year Gap would decrease to less than 3.
Many in the Space advocacy community hate to talk about President Obama’s lack of follow-through because they worked for and supported Obama’s Presidential campaign. I too worked on a Presidential campaign, as John McCain’s Space Industry Coordinator in Brevard County, Florida. The job of the pro-Space blog sites is not to be a waterboy for the Obama Administration but for the Space program. And if they will not, can not, be honest about the fact that the new President has not followed-through on his campaign promises, I have no such resistance. It’s not that I’m a sore loser. It is instead because I hold Space above Party. If only those who run NASA Watch, Space Politics, and other would do the same.