While NASA, our national space agency, continues to perform beautifully the pigs in congress continue to play hard nosed politics with funding for the research agency.
The latest disgrace comes from the Senate Appropriations Committee, which approved a spending bill June 11th that leaves NASA with some $239 million less than the agency needs for 2016. In addition to short changing the agency, the bill crucially shifts funds away from cheap, commercial space programs and towards pricey, pork ridden systems that may never see the light of day.
The benefactors? Boeing and Lockheed Martin, two of the most notorious defense contractors when it comes to sucking up Congressional pork.
The NASA funding of $18.29 billion comes after The White House asked lawmawkers to fund NASA at $18.529 billion.
But the bill shifted funding from some programs, including commercial crew and space technology, to the Space Launch System (SLS) and planetary science.
The SLS is a long-term oriented NASA space program that is developing a large rocket to transport humans to Mars.
The Commercial Crew program is designed to stop America from relying on Russian rockets and instead use commercial launch systems from SpaceX and United Launch Alliance (ULA). ULA is a consortium of Boeing and Lockheed.
Both Boeing and Lockheed despise the Commercial Crew program, as it introduces competition to their once easy space related profits. Upstart SpaceX is radically lowering the costs of putting American astronauts in space, denting the margins for the big incumbents and forcing them to compete.
Yet the monster defense contractors have deep ties to elected officials and a powerful lobby, so they simply got the budgets re-written so that more funds will go to the lucrative programs they control and less to the programs that are actually good for America.
The result for the American space program is that it will now have to continue to rely on Russian transportation to the international space station, an increasingly risky proposition.
The reduced funding for commercial crew prompted a strong response from NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, who said in a June 10 statement he was “deeply disappointed” by the Senate’s decision.
“By gutting this program and turning our backs on U.S. industry, NASA will be forced to continue to rely on Russia to get its astronauts to space – and continue to invest hundreds of millions of dollars into the Russian economy rather than our own,” he stated.
Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) also criticized the commercial crew funding cut in a speech on the Senate floor. “If that cut in the subcommittee is sustained,” he said, “it’s going to delay us from being able to launch Americans on American rockets.”