NASA Takes Its Lumps

Over the years, it has been somewhat painful to cover the happenings at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, better known as NASA.  There has been tragedy, all kinds of cool stuff, and then at budget time, a feeling sometimes of slow death.

That feeling goes both ways - towards the various administrations and their on-and-off love affair with space programs, and the officials running NASA, who have to play the role of Budget Marionettes for every different White House.

When one looks at the federal budget in its entirety, it is a massive operation, that costs a huge amount of money each year.

President Obama's budget for Fiscal Year 2011 will be over $3.8 trillion.

NASA won't even get $20 billion.

NASA's budget never hit double-digit billions until 1989.  It was around that time that I remember covering Vice President Dan Quayle, as he led the National Space Council, which urged a full review of what NASA wanted to accomplish in the future.

That was back when the Hubble Telescope went up with out of focus mirrors and the space shuttle fleet had been grounded, but the real focus was whether to move forward with the International Space Station, which many lawmakers felt was a giant budget hole.

It ultimately was funded, but only after a lot of grumbling from lawmakers that continues.

NASA always seems to be trying to figure out a new mission, a new way forward, which probably remind many of a new paint job for an old fence.

Fiscal Year 2011 may be no different.

Today, the Obama Administration will unveil a budget that would kill the Constellation program, which had plans to put Americans back on the moon, and scuttle new rockets designed in part to replace the space shuttle.

"I'm going to fight to save the program," said Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL), one of many lawmakers from both parties in states with NASA facilities who have served notice that they won't go along with the White House.

"I think that abandoning the space program is basically abandoning part of our future," Grayson added.

Administration officials know they are in for a battle on this one - but with NASA's record of cost overruns through the years, the space agency always seems to be fighting a losing public relations battle on a lot of these issues.

The proposed NASA budget may get to $19 billion overall.

$19 billion of $3.8 trillion.  If I can do some math on the back of an envelope here, I think that comes out to 0.5%.

Back in 1989, it was at 1%.

Drip, drip, drip.

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