White House proposes $14.5 billion NASA budget for 2002

Posted: April 10, 2001

NASA Administrator Daniel S. Goldin and Comptroller Malcolm Peterson look for the right budget numbers during Monday's news conference at NASA Headquarters. Photo: NASA TV/Spaceflight Now
NASA administrator Dan Goldin said Monday that the agency faces "difficult decisions" in a number of programs in the near future despite a 2002 budget request that gives the agency a modest funding increase.

The complete 2002 budget request, released Monday by President Bush, would give NASA $14.5 billion for fiscal year (FY) 2002. That would be an increase of $250 million -- just under 2 percent -- over the FY 2001 budget. The increase, at best, allows the agency to keep pace with the rate of inflation.

That funding increase will not be evenly distributed among existing programs, however, as some programs win extra funding at the expense of others that are either cut back or canceled outright. "The President has challenged NASA to examine its priorities," Goldin said, adding that its emphasis should be on "key efforts that are most important to moving our country forward in the pursuit of science and technology discoveries."

To carry this out, the budget calls for ending several programs, primarily in the aeronautics portion of the budget, including a rotorcraft development program and the High Performance Computing and Communications project. Those cuts would be offset by increases in other research programs, including new aircraft technology programs and an increase in the Space Launch Initiative (SLI) program, an effort to develop technologies for the next generations of reusable launch vehicles, from $271 million in 2001 to $475 million in 2002.

The space station and space shuttle will receive essentially steady funding in 2002 compared to this year under the budget proposal, although that funding will not be enough to prevent cuts in the station program caused by an estimated $4 billion overrun reported earlier this year. The budget released Monday contained no breakdown of how the $2.1 billion allocated for the station in 2002 would be spent; NASA officials said how the funding would be apportioned among research, operations, and development was still under review.

NASA Administrator Daniel S. Goldin fields questions from reporters on the agency's 2002 budget. Photo: NASA TV/Spaceflight Now
One of the more controversial decisions of the 2002 budget was to kill two space science programs, Solar Probe and Pluto-Kuiper Express (PKE). Funding that would have been spent on those programs was needed to cover increased costs in other missions, including the Space Infrared Telescope Facility (SIRTF) and Gravity Probe-B spacecraft. "This is one example of the type of priority reexamination that is going on at NASA, as encouraged by the President," said Goldin. "And, personally, I think that's the way it ought to be."

In an effort to make up for the loss of PKE in particular, Goldin said the budget would include support for a $310 million advanced propulsion program to develop technologies that could shorten the flight time of future missions to the outer solar system. Goldin noted that NASA was planning missions like PKE the same way -- "brute force" -- since he originally joined the space agency as a young engineer in 1962, and that it was time now for a change.

"This will set us a back a little bit but it will open up new possibilities," he said. "Although it would be wonderful to do Pluto-Kuiper Express, we'd rather spend the $310 million on technology. It's long overdue to address how to get there faster."

Goldin acknowledged that the decision to kill PKE or other programs would not sit well with some scientists, engineers, and possibly members of Congress. "My job is not to make people happy," he said. "My job is to provide for the future of the space program."

The release of the detailed budget figures marks the beginning, not the end, of the 2002 budget debate. Congress will take up the budget later this spring in a series of hearings. Congress will likely not approve the final budget until this fall, around the time the 2002 fiscal year begins on October 1 of 2001.