NASA Needs Extra Billions to Replace Shuttle Fleet on Time

End in Sight: Final Space Shuttle Missions Slated
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. (Image credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett)

NASAwill need billions of dollars in additional funding to keep its currentschedule for both retiring the space shuttle next year and for bringing itsreplacement, the Constellation program, online by 2015, according to a reportreleased Thursday by federal budget watchdogs.

TheCongressional Budget Office analyzed several budget scenarios for carrying outthe spaceexploration plan announced in 2004 by then-President George W. Bush.

Eachscenario predicted schedule slips, unless NASA received increasing funding.

"IfNASA's funding was maintained at $19.1 billion annually and the agency realizedcost growth in its programs consistent with the average for 72 of its pastprograms, its planned schedules for spaceflight programs would bedelayed," the report said.

Italso addressed the schedule for the shuttle's replacement, the Constellationprogram, which is expected to send Americans back into space in 2015 in the new Aresrocket and Orion space capsule.

Withcurrent funding levels, "the initial operating capability for Ares 1 andOrion 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 beyond2025," the report said.

TheCongressional Budget Office also listed other scenarios. They are:

IncreasingNASA funding to $23.8 billion, which would allow the agency to close theexpected five-yeargap in manned spaceflight by keeping the space shuttles flying to 2015.Under this plan, the United States also would extend support for theInternational Space Station for another five years, to 2015.

RaisingNASA funding to $21.1 billion. This would allow Constellation to stay onschedule and the shuttlesto retire next year. However, this plan would cut 15 of the sciencemissions NASA currently has planned, or delay them until after 2025.

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