Troubles at NASA.
NASA devotes about $5.4 billion a year to its science program, divided among specialties like astrophysics, earth science and planetary exploration. To finance President Bush’s exploration initiative to return humans to the Moon, while also financing space shuttle operations and a shuttle replacement out of the agency’s approximately $16 billion annual budget, science program money is being held to about a 1 percent increase per year for four years.
Factoring in inflation and the loss of what had been anticipated financing increases, space experts say this amounts to a loss for NASA science of about $3 billion over that period. For Dr. Stern, that means doing more with less.
The bulk of the article describes “innovative” work by S. Alan Stern, the new director of the NASA space science division, to force the agency’s famously sprawling projects to do a better job of balancing their accounts. Is that really news? Agencies with reduced budgets always tighten up their accounting, among other things. Incentive-wise it’s just the flip side of the way that agencies loosen the belt a bit when the budget increases more than expected. The article doesn’t even make the case that Dr. Stern actually makes more with less. He is clearly making less with less; the good news is that without creative guidance from Dr. Stern the bleeding might be worse.
The meaningful point in this story is simply that a pointless moon project is stealing resources from the research budget at NASA. We already knew it would do that. The story is not news per se so much as another milestone on a path that smart observers mapped out the moment Bush announced his grand money pit of a space vision.