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February 02, 2003

by Andrew DIMN at ByteBack
Bush made it clear in his short speech yesterday that the space Shuttle program will not end or be curtailed under his watch. In an analysis of mostly unopinionated and some opinionated Web sources conducted today, there is no evidence to the contrary.

In 2001 Bush proposed an increase in the NASA budget to $14.5 billion. In light of inflation, some viewed that as a cut. The NASA budgets during the Clinton years were reduced seven of eight years.

What is apparent is a focus on cutting the International Space Program as much as possible and pushing to reduce overall funds in the future. The space station has seen massive cost overruns in recent years. One of those cuts was to reduce the number of astronauts possible aboard the space station from seven to three.

That is demonstrated by the move to promote Sean O' Keefe to NASA Administrator. Previously as deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget, he was Bush's No. 2 federal budget advisor.

It is unclear whether any of this has anything to do with the Feb. 1 Columbia accident.

Florida Today on Space Shuttle program cuts (2001)

WIRED, Privatizing Space Shuttle program - just like the MIR space station (12/2001)
Excerpt: "One idea (United Space Alliance had) was to turn Columbia orbiter into a commercial vehicle, one that might take passengers," Aldrin said. "NASA's reaction was to have the president of the monopoly fired."

A USA spokesman said the idea "was something under consideration" but had "never reached any particular point."

The spokesman, Jack King, added, "It is not valid now."

While airlines test all sorts of pricing schemes to fill empty seats, NASA typically has empty places on the shuttle that could -- if the agency felt like it -- go to paying customers. (It was the Russian firm MirCorp that found a seat for the first paying space tourist, American businessman Dennis Tito.)

Aldrin said in his testimony, "Since the shuttle was declared operational, more than 100 seats have gone unused. If the value of a seat is $20 million, that amounts to $2 billion in lost revenue for the space program."

United Space Alliance, the Boeing, Lockheed-Martin partnership,which build and maintains the space shuttles.
Space Shuttle specifications Overview of the elements
Politics on NASA budget (2001).
President Bush proposed a 2 percent increase for NASA next year, but (Sen. Bill) Nelson argued that was far too little to cover the agency's needs, particularly in light of a $4.8 billion cost overrun on the International Space Station. NASA is trying to make up the rest by slashing science research on the outpost by $1 billion.

Shuttle safety improvements and refurbishment of the KSC infrastructure also have been bumped routinely to make up cash. KSC's Vehicle Assembly Building, where the shuttles are assembled, needs $150 million in repairs, NASA Administrator Dan Goldin said.

"They're trying to punish NASA for its cost overruns," Nelson said. "There's a considerable majority in Congress that wants to preserve an aggressive program of research (on the station), but without the science, there's not much to do in the way of research."

A deeper concern is the aging shuttle fleet itself, the senator said.

"Another major accident would cause a real threat to the manned space program," Nelson said. He said political support for NASA could evaporate if a Challenger-type disaster occurs. Nelson flew on shuttle Columbia in 1986 on the mission prior to the Challenger accident.

In case you missed that Democrat Sen. Bill Nelson, flew on Columbia in 1986.

Other related links here (SPaceRef.com), here (SPaceREf.com), here (CNN 4/2001), here GlobalSecurity.org
and here (WIRED).