NASA Needs Extra Billions to Replace Shuttle Fleet on Time
Space shuttle Discovery is purged - providing cool and humidified air conditioning to the payload bay and other cavities to remove any residual explosive or toxic fumes – while still on the runway.
Credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

NASA will need billions of dollars in additional funding to keep its current schedule for both retiring the space shuttle next year and for bringing its replacement, the Constellation program, online by 2015, according to a report released Thursday by federal budget watchdogs.

The Congressional Budget Office analyzed several budget scenarios for carrying out the space exploration plan announced in 2004 by then-President George W. Bush.

Each scenario predicted schedule slips, unless NASA received increasing funding.

"If NASA's funding was maintained at $19.1 billion annually and the agency realized cost growth in its programs consistent with the average for 72 of its past programs, its planned schedules for spaceflight programs would be delayed," the report said.

It also addressed the schedule for the shuttle's replacement, the Constellation program, which is expected to send Americans back into space in 2015 in the new Ares rocket and Orion space capsule.

With current funding levels, "the initial operating capability for Ares 1 and Orion would be pushed to late 2016; the return of humans to the moon would slip (from 2020) to 2023; and 15 of 79 science missions would be delayed beyond 2025," the report said.

The Congressional Budget Office also listed other scenarios. They are:

Increasing NASA funding to $23.8 billion, which would allow the agency to close the expected five-year gap in manned spaceflight by keeping the space shuttles flying to 2015. Under this plan, the United States also would extend support for the International Space Station for another five years, to 2015.

Raising NASA funding to $21.1 billion. This would allow Constellation to stay on schedule and the shuttles to retire next year. However, this plan would cut 15 of the science missions NASA currently has planned, or delay them until after 2025.

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