NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden and Center Director David McBride responded to employees' questions at a town hall during Bolden's visit. (NASA Photo / Tom Tschida) › View Larger Image
Bolden Talks Budget
NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden spoke to Dryden employees Feb. 23 about the NASA budget as part of a West Coast tour of NASA field centers that included the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena and Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, Calif.
Bolden outlined NASA's future course in space exploration, environmental and aeronautical research at the Antelope Valley Board of Trade's 2012 Business Outlook Conference in Lancaster, Calif., on Feb. 24.
At Dryden, Bolden also received briefings on Dryden Earth science, astrophysics, exploration and aeronautics research work and participated in groundbreaking ceremonies for the center's new Facilities Support Center.
President Barack Obama's proposed budget for 2013, which includes NASA funding, will begin working its way through the U.S. Congress this month. In fact, Bolden said he is scheduled to testify March 7 in congressional hearings on the proposed $17.7 billion NASA 2013 budget, which is just slightly less than NASA's 2012 $17.8 billion budget.
"We are in a very constrained budget environment. I don't have to tell you because you see it everyday," Bolden said. "The nation's in a crunch and NASA's being asked to pull back on our budget just like everybody else."
Although Bolden was generally pleased with NASA's budget, he said he was disappointed that the 2013 Aeronautics Research $551 million budget excludes funds for hypersonic work.
"We have to take a step back. I have asked the U.S. Department of Defense and the U.S. Department of Energy who will pick up this research? We don't want to drop the baton in a handoff. If we are not doing fundamental hypersonic work, then someone has to do it. We have the expertise. Maybe we could do it as reimbursable work? That discussion is not over yet. It will not go away," Bolden said.
However, NASA will be leading science and exploration efforts.
"The budget we were able to craft through cooperation with the Office of Science and Technology Policy through the Office of Management and Budget, and that I am going to defend, maintains a robust portfolio of programs that will be challenging to us. It will enable us to remain leaders in the world in terms of exploration," he said.
The proposed 2013 budget will allow that leadership to continue, Bolden said.
"We remain the exploration leaders in the world. I don't care what anybody tells you. China is not close. Russia is not close. Yes, we are using Soyuz to get our crew back and forth to space right now. But in terms of the expertise and capability, everybody still looks to us. We are the world's leader in exploration."
The proposed 2013 budget supports Bolden's claims with a budget for Science that is the single biggest budget category of the Agency at $4.9 billion. Included in that figure is nearly $1.8 billion for research and a fleet of Earth observation aircraft and spacecraft to better understand climate change, improve future disaster predictions and provide environmental information. Another key project is the budgeted $628 million for moving forward on the James Webb telescope.
"We have more than 80 science missions, 56 of which are operating now and 28 missions in development," he said.
The commitment to space exploration also is solid. The proposed 2013 Exploration budget of $3.9 billion includes the development of a heavy lift launch vehicle and multipurpose crew vehicle. The proposed 2013 Space Operations budget of more than $4 billion funds the International Space Station and the Space Technology budget of $699 million supports the development of commercial crew vehicles.
"When people say we have walked away from human spaceflight, that is not the case at all. Almost half of the budget is dedicated to human space flight," Bolden said.
Concerning the ISS, NASA astronauts have been aboard continuously for 12 years. An agreement between NASA's international partners extends the station's operations through at least 2020 and the station is certified to operate through 2028, Bolden said.
U.S. astronauts, currently traveling to the ISS by way of the Russian Soyuz, will again travel in U.S. vehicles in the future, he said.
Lockheed Martin, the prime contractor for the Multipurpose Crew Vehicle, plans to fly the vehicle without a crew in 2014 - in just two years. That will reduce risk for planned flights in 2017 of the vehicle system. If everything goes as planned, the first crewed flight around the moon or an asteroid is planned for 2021. The mission has not yet been determined, Bolden said.
It is estimated that 2017 is the earliest a commercial vehicle could take a U.S. crew to the ISS, although some companies think they can do it faster, he said.
Regardless of how quickly NASA's key goals are achieved, the proposed 2013 budget will help move programs and projects forward that will continue to benefit the country and the world, Bolden said.
By Jay Levine