NASA has an impossible task: continue the Shuttle, finish the space station, start designing and building an entirely new class of rocket, and get us to the Moon.
And oh– they can’t spend any extra money doing all this. The budget is flat.
Then Columbia disintegrated, throwing everything out the window. Delays were inevitable, and it took about two years to get the Shuttle back to flight status… which meant more money.
This didn’t go unnoticed. Senator Mikulski (D-MD) and several co-sponsors (including my own Rep, Ken Salazar (D-CO)) from both sides of the aisle proposed adding a billion bucks to NASA’s budget as an emergency fund to help reimburse costs of getting the Shuttle back to flight readiness. Mikulski is a long-time friend of NASA, not least because she has two major space-based centers in her state (Goddard, part of NASA, and the Space Telescope Science Institute). The amendment passed yesterday (Tom Coburn (R-OK) spoke against it… but I have a feeling I would disagree with him on just about everything he stands for – he is incredibly antiscience), which is the good news.
However, NASA may never see the money. This added funding is part of a larger package, and Bush has already said he’ll veto it, because – set your irony gland for hyperdrive – it costs too much. I guess he’s against socialized help even for government projects.
Anyway, we’ll see how this mess resolves soon enough. There is a similar bill in the House right now, and the two halves of Congress have to hammer out an agreement, merging the two bills, before it goes to The Deciderer to veto. It’s possible the veto could be overruled, as this budget appears to have broad bipartisan support. Small-minded politics plays a huge role here: Democrats will likely vote to override the veto, and Republicans who are up for re-election next year might as well because Bush’s rating are in the toilet (and since he vetoed SCHIP they are likely to plummet further; the American public is overwhelmingly in favor of giving children health care) and they need to distance themselves somewhat from him.
I hate hate hate that our future rides on the back of such petty garbage (not to mention the lies and spin), but as they say, Democracy is the worst form of government except for all the other kinds.