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Commercial Space Proponents Hail Obama's NASA Budget

Spending plan is 'good news' for Florida; House Republicans have other ideas
By: Kenric Ward | Posted: February 15, 2011 3:55 PM

Barack Obama Closeup

President Barack Obama

Though flat, the Obama administration's $18.7 billion NASA budget is "good news for Florida and the nation," says Space Florida chief Frank DiBello.

The president's spending plan includes "a more significant commitment to the commercial crew program in the near term. That means we can get back to flying sooner than any other alternative that's out there," DiBello told Sunshine State News.

The Commercial Spaceflight Federation also hailed what it called "strong support for commercial spaceflight" in the fiscal 2012 proposal.

“In this constrained fiscal environment, commercial spaceflight is more important than ever. NASA’s commercial crew program will result in significant savings to the U.S. taxpayer, and will cut the amount of money the nation has been sending to Russia every year," said CSF President Bretton Alexander.

"Leveraging private investment is the only way NASA can make its dollars go farther in these times of belt-tightening," said Alexander, whose group promotes the development of commercial human spaceflight.

DiBello said the White House's budget plan "reflects a more emphatic endorsement of commercial crew and commercial cargo to support the International Space Station in the near term."

DiBello believes that's good news for Florida, which is recruiting commercial-launch ventures to locate at Cape Canaveral. This month, Space Florida signed a memorandum of understanding with Bigelow Aerospace, which intends to launch its first Orbital Space Complex from the Cape in 2014.

Obama's budget trims $1.8 billion for space operations, mainly due to the phase-out of the space shuttle program. On the plus side, there's a $350 million increase for commercial crew programs to $850 million. The total exploration budget request is $3.95 billion, up $172 million.

DiBello acknowledged that the White House budget comes up short in other areas, and needs more overall clarity.

"There's not enough to do all that NASA would like to do. The administration needs to give the agency a goal, a mission, and let NASA come back to Congress to say 'Here's what we can do, and when.'"

The White House budget request initiates development of a heavy-lift rocket and Orion exploration capsule, calling for $2.8 billion in combined spending on those programs in 2012.

But DiBello predicted a tough fight on Capitol Hill, noting that many members of Congress have called for more rapid development of a heavy-lift rocket to launch deep-space exploration.

"The nation needs [a heavy-lift rocket], but won't be able to fly it until much, much later. There's just not enough in the budget to make it sustainable in the out years," DiBello said.

A House Republican budget proposal would cut NASA funds by $303 million for the rest of 2011. GOP appropriators say their budget would also continue development of the heavy-lift rocket and spacecraft for NASA's exploration program.

Reps. Bill Posey, R-Rockledge, and Sandy Adams, R-Oviedo, want to scale back funds that go to research climate change (formerly known as global warming).

Funding climate research, said Adams, "undercuts one of NASA's primary and most important objectives of human spaceflight."

About $1.4 billion of NASA's budget is earmarked for the agency's earth science division, where the climate research is done.

John Gedmark, executive director of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation, said, “NASA’s No. 1 job is to safely keep America flying in space" and to eliminate the nation's dependence on Russia to ferry astronauts to the International Space Station. 

"It’s because commercial spaceflight is the fastest way to end our reliance on Russia that robust funding for commercial crew is so critical," he said.

Saying the commercial crew program "will create thousands more private-sector jobs using a combination of government and private investment," Gedmark concluded, “It's time to unleash the innovation of the American private sector in space, and NASA's new budget does exactly that. It’s the only way to ensure America’s leadership in space.”

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Contact KenricWard at kward@sunshinestatenews.com or at (772) 801-5341.

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