1 step forward, 2 back?
Where's the money for President Bush's bold new vision going to come from?
He’s not likely to raid Social Security for it–so NASA will have to scare up most of the cash. Of the $12 billion allotted for the first five years of the new Moon and Mars exploration plan, $11 billion will be siphoned from existing space programs.
Obvious candidates are the costly shuttle and space station, but Bush intends to keep the shuttle flying until 2010 and to complete space station construction, so NASA will have to look elsewhere. The first casualty was apparently the Hubble Space Telescope, whose startlingly beautiful images of the universe have amazed astronomers and delighted the public for a decade. Less than 48 hours after the president’s speech, administrator Sean O’Keefe announced that NASA would stop sending servicing missions to Hubble. Without them, the scope will go blind in a few years, as a result of failing batteries and gyroscopes. Officials said they were abandoning Hubble because it’s too risky to fly the space shuttle anywhere save the International Space Station, but many scientists saw the cancellation as a budget-cutting move–terminating Hubble will free up approximately $250 million each year.
A host of other NASA programs are also fair game. Though at press time the agency hadn’t given a full accounting of which programs will be cut, a likely candidate for elimination is a plan to grow giant protein crystals aboard the ISS–an experiment that medical researchers had said would lead to new drug discoveries. Also potentially on the chopping block are combustion studies that promised to improve fuel efficiency, and metallurgy research aimed at creating better alloys. So far, there has been surprisingly little protest from the scientific community over these threatened losses. “I don’t think there was ever a constituency of users for the space station, only a constituency of builders,” says Louis Friedman of the Planetary Society.
But other cuts could be more controversial, including research into aviation safety and efficiency, education programs for kids, weather and climate studies, and a variety of other scientific research programs not directly related to human space travel.