For months now, professional scientists and astronomy enthusiasts alike have awaited the result of congressional negotiations over NASA’s 2012 fiscal year budget. The big question: Would the troubled James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), the space agency’s replacement for Hubble, survive the cut after major overspending? Would preparations for JWST end up stealing money from other science programs should Congress continue its funds?
According to the bill, NASA will get $17.8 billion in 2012, which is $684 million below the agency’s 2011 funding and $924 million less than what the White House had requested, with specifications as followed:
- Manned space exploration will receive $3.8 billion, down $30 million from last year. This includes NASA’s recently announced Space Launch System (SLS), which is budgeted for $1.8 billion, and its Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle, which receives $1.2 billion.
- Congress budgeted $4.2 billion for space operations, some $1.3 billion less than last year (partly due to the end of the Space Shuttle Program). The loser in this category is NASA’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Program, which funds private-enterprise initiatives for space exploration, such as Space X. This program will get less than half of the $850 million the president had wanted — only $406 million.
- Science programs, including JWST, are budgeted for $5.1 billion, up $155 million from last year. Of this, $529.6 million will go to JWST ($156 million more than the White House requested), $1.77 billion to Earth science ($30 million less than requested), $1.5 billion to planetary science ($40 million less than requested), and $672 million to astrophysics ($10.7 million less than requested). The overview of the bill includes some explicit language: “The agreement accommodates cost growth in the James Webb Space Telescope by making commensurate reductions in other programs, and institutes several new oversight measurements for JWST’s continuing development.”
So, what does this mean? First, Congress seems to be more concerned with government manned space programs than it is with cooperating with private companies (not a great plan, in my opinion). And although JWST survives, it will be under close watch going forward (good) and will cause delays in some other science programs in order to launch by 2018 (bad).
What are your thoughts on the results of the 2012 budget measure? Do you think Congress made good or bad decisions? Will we go through another budget controversy in another year? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.
Sending humans into space for exploration is not anywhere nearly as cost efficient, useful, or, obviously, as safe as sending unmanned probes into space. Exploration of Mars by astronauts is, currently and in the near future, impractical. Going to the Moon is a few days' trip back and forth, but the years in space required for Mars exploration should be done with probes and rovers. Manned space exploration is mostly -- although not completely, of course -- done for international prestige. Prestige is, personally, something I feel should be left to the prestige-hungry. We shouldn't be prestige -hungry; we should be science-hungry.
The new large Mars rover, that is scheduled to launch on 26 November, if sucessful will spend months on Mars, won't need to worry about running out of oxygen, won't have to worry about "human waste disposal", won't die of thirst or get the flu, and need to see a doctor. It might get stuck, or damaged by a rough landing, it's power supply may fail, but it won't have wife or child that will, become a widow or orphan, of a dead Astronaut. Delay any manned missions until we can get there and back in a quick efficient, and safe manner. As long as we are probing the universe, we will continue to learn, so future generations can reap the rewards of our study and gains in technology making space travel possible, and practical. The JWST should be our first priority, look at the gains we have made with Hubble, just in low earth orbit, imagine what we can learn from the Webb, 1.5 million kilometers out in space. Spend the NASA dollars on things we can do, not just pipe dreams, or just to beat the Russians and or Chinese.
I agree that the JWST should be the first priority. Enormous amounts of research can be done on a myriad of objects in deep space by such instruments. However, the manned space program has its place - and it is not merely a pipe dream. A geologist could do a lot more research on the Moon or Mars much more efficiently than a robot can. Astronauts do their jobs knowing that it may cost them their lives. If they are willing to accept the risk, then I do not believe the risk itself is a reason to abandon manned space travel. That being said, the journey to Mars would be long and costly for a human, and at present it does not seem like there would be even a reasonable level of safety. I do still hope that it will occur in my lifetime, as giving up manned space exploration would be giving up on the only frontier left to us.
Size of annual US Gross Domestic Product = About $15,000,000,000,000. Present value of US Federal debt obligations without increasing taxes or cutting spending = about $50,000,000,000,000 (Source Bill Gross of PIMCO) Amount of money needed to prevent melt down of the European banking system from their holding of European sovereign debt = at least $2,000,000,000,000 within 3 MONTHS, if they (and we) are lucky to have that long before the European banking system collapses, like ours almost did after the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy. (Source, interview of Oliver Sarkozy, Carlyle Group, November 23, on CNBC Squawk Box program.)
Be glad NASA got as much as it did. It may not last much longer. To quote a Cyndi Lauper song, "Money, money changes everything."
I have to disagree with almost EVERYTHING PeakOilBill wrote. I am NOT glad about NASA's budget downgrades. Where will all these scientific minds go? Answer: They'll become Dr. Evils and saturate the earth with crazy outer space versions of anthrax. Also, one should NEVER quote Cyndi Lauper to bolster his argument. I'd quote the Three Stooges, but I don't think that would hold up under scientific or philosophical scrutiny, either.