Christmas arrived early this year! For the United States (and as I do believe will be eventually proven, for NASA) Christmas arrived on November the 8th.
For years, NASA’s budget has barely hung onto ½ of 1% of total annual federal spending. This amount is inadequate, insufficient and inappropriate to accomplish really exciting human space achievements in relatively short timeframes. Keeping the general public and the media engaged and excited can produce an increasingly larger and larger revolving financial door. Additionally, programs that have the potential to be exciting cannot be allowed to move at glacial speed.
However, there is another problem that an increased budget needs to solve besides the “space is expensive problem” and this one is never going to go away. This problem is connected to programs that are not engineered for efficiency but engineered to drag on and on just to serve special corporate and political interests! Compounding this are programs without realistic integrated missions and suffer appropriations that are routinely diverted from the destinations Congress intended. So, with the Station sucking up half of NASA’s budget every year and programs with political support engineered to spend more and more money and not focused on efficiency resulting in far exceeding the costs originally presented to Congress, it is no surprise that NASA needs a greater allowance just to offset the politics much less what’s needed to really get going.
Programs need to move. They shouldn’t be considered the end game in and of themselves as just a long term way for companies and politicians to milk the system.
I propose that NASA should have (beginning in fiscal year 2019) an annual budget equal to at least 1% of total yearly federal spending. This is not only, not too much to expect but is essential. Globally, NASA’s future leadership is currently in question. In addition, future American space programs that are substantial should not have dependency on the need for foreign capital or other contributions that carry with them political baggage.
Here is the how! With President Trump in the White House, we have a good chance of achieving real, sustained, economic growth of about 3.5% annually. This is in contrast to the anemic growth rate we have had of 1.8% over the last eight years. With this increase, the United States can easily afford NASA’s 1% and even more.
Let us call upon future President Trump to do exactly that. The new White House needs to propose to Congress an annual NASA budget equal to at least 1% of all yearly federal spending beginning in fiscal year 2019.
The new White House needs to make a real commitment to this Nation’s space future. Put a stake in the ground for American global space leadership. Put a stake in the ground for lunar bases, lunar surface exploration and development of private sector lunar industries.
So you ask, why is increasing NASA’s budget important to supporting space commerce? The answer is, NASA needs to be a strong and diverse customer of private space industry. In the United States, NASA and space commerce are currently evolving. Private capital is footing more and more of the research and development expense for advance space systems. Over time, this should enable NASA, foreign countries, corporations and other clients to purchase or rent space hardware for their missions at substantially less cost. Having NASA as an anchor tenant or major customer is not only strategically correct to secure this beginning process, but is totally appropriate and in line with all other government agencies renting buildings, airplanes or cars from the commercial sector.
The decisions made within the next couple of years may shape the rest of human spaceflight for decades to come. How NASA transitions out of LEO affecting cost and commercial markets is arguably the most important decision that will impact progress of human spaceflight. Sustainability is the key to this transition. Therefore, LEO commercialization and deep space exploration need to be in alignment.
Robert T. Bigelow