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Garver: Budget Reflects NASA's Space Priorities
By: Jim Hodges

Lori Garver made it clear Thursday that the primary drivers of NASA's Fiscal Year 2013 budget request were the primary drivers of the agency right now.

"When you look at the priorities for NASA, it was decided by (Administrator) Charlie Bolden and the President that the top three have to be the International Space Station … the Orion (Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle) and Space Launch System … and the James Webb Space Telescope," said Garver, NASA's deputy administrator, at an all-hands meeting that packed NASA Langley's Reid Conference Center.

She followed the session with employees with talks with Craig Collier, who has built an aerospace business using NASA technology. That technology, which was used in the early stages of the Orion crew vehicle, also has been used with commercial and military aircraft over the 17-year life of the company.

Lori Garver, Feb. 16, 2012.
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Lori Garver tells a NASA Langley assembly that the rest of the world's space agencies total about 75 percent of NASA's $17.7 budget request for FY 2013. Credit: NASA/Sean Smith.

At the Reid, Garver said that the $17.7 billion NASA budget request was enough to accomplish what the agency needs to do, and that the figure was drawn to conform with the 2010 NASA Authorization bill and Congressional actions in 2011 that reduced the 2012 budget request by about $500 million.

Still, Garver added, "if you total up all of the other space agencies around the world, they get to about 75 percent of the NASA budget."

Decisions leading up to the 2013 budget request sharply reduced funds for an agency program in education and a Langley program in hypersonic propulsion, topics about which Garver was queried from the audience, which gathered three days after Langley's $738 million budget request was announced.

In the end, the hypersonic program didn't fit into any NASA directory budget, Garver said. Also, though the Department of Defense is keen on air-breathing propulsion development, it was not keen enough to fund research in the field.

Education was cut from $136 million to $100 million after a design team review in which all of the centers participated. "The recommendation was that we need to reform our education programs to have more impact," Garver said. "You just can't plant thousands of flowers and hope something comes up."

It's clear that NASA is still trying to educate a public that isn't sure the agency has designs on space flight after the space shuttle.

"People who are concerned that we are ending spaceflight do not need to be concerned about that," Garver said. "Looking at our budget, we have nearly half in human exploration of space."

Indeed, 45 percent of the $17.7 billion – about $8 billion overall -- is given to human exploration, with another 4 percent in space technology.

Lori Garver, Feb. 16, 2012.
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(From left) Lori Garver met with Craig Collier, who has leveraged NASA technology into a business in which he works with the agency as well as commercial concerns in designing aircraft. Credit: NASA/Sean Smith.

Among those funds is money for the Orion Multi Purpose Crew Vehicle and Space Launch System (SLS), the agency's future to exploration beyond low-Earth orbit.

The SLS money is an investment beyond exploration, Garver insisted.

"We believe, in this country in the last 15 years or so, we have lost our competitive edge in the launch arena," she said. "We used to have 80 percent of the world's capability to launch satellites. We now have about 20 percent.

"We believe we can not only lower the cost for Department of Defense missions, but also for our science missions. If we invest in lower cost (for the launchers), and we don't have to spend one-third to one-half of our mission costs on the launch itself, that will help NASA to do more in the arena of science and technology."

The decision to extend the life of the International Space Station to 2020 or beyond is another budgeting factor considered an investment in the future of exploration.

"The space station continues to provide great science as well as information on how we can explore further," Garver said. "There were more than 400 scientific studies conducted there last year. And to continue to use the space station, we need to reduce the transportation costs of getting to and from it."

It's the reason for NASA's emphasis on commercial space flight for low-Earth orbit, an $829.7 million line item in the exploration budget request for 2013.

More money for the Webb telescope is an acknowledgement of its importance in mapping outer space, as well as of problems in developing the tool.

"Faced with overruns for the James Webb Telescope, we decided to step up and have this mission launched," Garver said. "At the level of funding where we were last year, we were told you could spend that money for 20 years and never launch. We needed to get the money to where it was needed for a 2018 launch."

The Webb consumes 13 percent of science's $4.9 billion share of the NASA budget.

Garver acknowledged that the budget request is just that: a request.

But, she added, "We absolutely believe that what we have requested is in line with the bi-partisan agreement we have with Congress. … We have a stable budget.

"We are about even top line ($17.7 billion). Our percentages of human space flight and science are all consistent; and we have funded those three priorities agreed to: SLS/Orion, Webb Space Telescope and Space Station, getting there with commercial crew and cargo."

It's a forerunner of what you'll expect to hear in testimony before Congress that will determine what the actual budget looks like after a final vote.

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