WASHINGTON-- The top Democrat on the House Science Committee says NASA faces a protractedfight for its budget and the future of space exploration, and that the attackswill come from the right and the left.
Rep. BartGordon (D-Tenn.) told the audience at an Oct. 21 breakfast meeting of the SpaceTransportation Association that he expects conservative Republicans to pressfor savings from the NASA budget and some Democrats to push for NASA dollars tobe spent on "problems here on Earth."
Defendingthe NASA budget will be difficult, Gordon said, in part because the agencysuffers from a credibility problem arising from years of broken promises andincorrect cost projections on programs like the international space station. Ontop of that, he said, U.S. President George W. Bush's vision for returning tothe Moon and going on to Mars is difficult to defend when funding gets tight."Going to the Moon is just something that is so easy to slap at," he said.
To counterthose weaknesses, he urged the space community to do a better job mobilizinglower tier suppliers to lobby Congress on behalf of the space agency's agenda.He urged them to build a strong coalition to bolster NASA and do a better jobof communicating NASA's importance to the general public. Part of thatcoalition's job will be to "explain that we are going to the Moon not just on atourist expedition but that there are good reasons for it."
"Eventhough I think we will get by this time, what we want to avoid is blood in thewater," said Gordon, noting that any cuts in NASA's budget now would send themessage that the agency is easy prey for those searching the federal budgetwaters for spending cuts.
"We aregetting into an every-man-for-himself situation," Gordon said. Thatenvironment, he said, makes cuts to the NASA budget over the next three to fouryears a "realistic scenario."
When pushcomes to shove and the power of the president may be the only thing standingbetween NASA and significant budget cuts, Gordon said he is worried that Bushmight not come through.
"I don'tthink President Bush is a space guy when it comes down to it," he said, citingthe president's apparent lack of interest in space issues while he was governorof Texas.
Severalspace industry officials who attended the breakfast said they were watching thecoming federal budget clash with trepidation and planned to do as much aspossible to avoid cuts to NASA's budget, especially its space explorationspending.
"As amember of the Coalition for Space Exploration, it is critical that we heed hischallenge to do a better job of communicating the benefits and relevance ofspace R&D to a broad public audience," said one attendee.
Severalsources at the breakfast expressed some surprise at Gordon's call to bolsterthe use of suppliers to lobby Congress. "We already do everything hementioned," said one industry representative. "But we'll keep pushing, becausehe's right that people are going to come after NASA dollars."