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Scientists Warn House Appropriators About NASA Budget

Former high-ranking NASA officials told a House Appropriations subcommittee today that budget constraints threaten the agency’s agenda on earth science and human space exploration, echoing remarks made by NASA Administrator Michael Griffin before a Senate panel last week.

Lennard Fisk and Raymond Colladay, both former NASA assistant administrators who chair National Research Council committees on space policy, called increases to the agency’s budget crucial to achieving research goals and returning to the moon.

“We need to decide if we are truly committed at this time to human expansion into space, which I hope we are, and commit the resources to be successful,” Fisk told the panel.

Colladay said that cuts to NASA programs reverberate throughout the agency. “All areas are tight, and growth in any mission area can come only at the expense of another, which I would strongly discourage,” he testified. “This highlights the need for budget relief at the topline.”

Before a Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation subcommittee last week, Griffin warned that budget limits could extend a projected gap in U.S. human space flights when the space shuttle fleet is retired in 2010. The fiscal 2007 appropriation, which contains cuts to NASA’s budget compared to previous years, will likely delay the shuttle’s successor from being ready in 2014 to being ready in 2015, Griffin said.

That prompted Sens. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) and Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) to vow to seek funding increases for the agency either in war supplemental bills or in fiscal 2008. The Bush administration is seeking $17.3 billion for NASA in fiscal 2008.

But House lawmakers suggested that doing so could be difficult, telling today’s witnesses that while they were sympathetic and supportive of NASA, the tight budget climate was a major constraint. Rep. Alan Mollohan (D-W.Va.), who chairs the Appropriations subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and related agencies, said that the agency’s broad mandate and limited resources pose a management dilemma.

“Some say NASA has too much on its plate with too few resources,” he said.

Asked by Mollohan what changes NASA should make if additional funds were not forthcoming, Fisk said the agency should take another look at its budget to see if additional “efficiencies” could be found.

But he said additional funds were imperative for vital research into climate change and carrying out President Bush’s goal of revisiting the moon.

“We are paying for the present by sacrificing the future,” he said.

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