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The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) fared better than many other government agencies in President Bush’s budget request for 2007, which was released on February 6. The administration requested $16.8 billion for NASA, a 3.2 percent increase over its 2006 funding (not counting emergency funding in 2006 for Hurricane Katrina recovery). After accounting for inflation, that amounts to an essentially flat budget for NASA.

But the administration’s view of how NASA should spend the money has irked many proponents of the scientific exploration of space. The president’s budget includes just under $4 billion for the Exploration Systems Mission Directorate, mostly for the development of the Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV), an Apollo-like capsule slated to replace the shuttle for manned spaceflight by 2014.

That spending is needed to keep NASA on track with President Bush’s 2004 Vision for Space Exploration, which proposes sending humans back to the moon and eventually Mars. But to keep operating the three remaining space shuttles and finish building the International Space Station, NASA will take away $1 billion previously promised for CEV development and $1.5 billion promised for space science.

Louis Friedman, executive director of the Planetary Society in Pasadena, CA, says he’s troubled by the budget’s emphasis on the space shuttles – which he believes should be retired immediately in favor of accelerated development of the CEV and the accompanying Heavy Launch Vehicle (HLV).

Friedman, who cofounded the Planetary Society in 1980 with Carl Sagan and space scientist Bruce Murray, argues that continuing to prop up the aging space shuttle fleet will derail both the moon and Mars missions and important science projects. Technology Review’s Wade Roush interviewed Friedman on February 6.

Technology Review: When the Bush administration’s budget numbers for NASA came out today, and the agency said it would have to cut science programs, what was your first reaction?

Louis Friedman: I don’t think we were shocked. But, to be honest, the news is worse than we expected. It is such a complete attack on science, it’s just starting to sink in. NASA freely says science has been the crown jewel of agency – and then they say ‘We have to excise it.’ It’s just bizarre.

During the old days at NASA, the saying was that you reward failure and you punish success. This seems to be that again: take the successful part of the program and cut it back. We support fully the Vision for Space Exploration and the reform in the program to build the new vehicles – but this is not what the new budget does. It basically returns to the old vision, by making a new investment in the shuttle.

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