We’ve reported on NASA’s problem with funding cuts a few times already this year, and there’s no sign of things getting better any time soon. Costly foreign wars and soaring budget deficits mean that every federal department has to tighten their belts, and budget overruns surrounding space technology mean that projects are coming under scrutiny by Congress and the Government Accountability Office (GAO).
First in the firing line is a planned weather monitoring satellite network, called Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite-R, or GOES-R. GOES-R was originally planned to cost around $6 billion, but recent estimates have put that figure at almost double, even though it is still in the planning stages. GOES-R is not planned to enter operation until 2014. Despite dropping certain sensors from the design, the GAO still wants an accurate estimate from NOAA on just how much it will cost. A prior NOAA project, the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS), has already been affected by cost overruns.
NOAA aren’t the only people in trouble. NASA’s proposed shuttle replacement, the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV) is also under increased scrutiny from the House Science Committee, as NASA is having trouble accurately forcasting the exact cost of a return to the Moon when the project is so early in the planning stages. Although current estimates are around $230 billion, NASA’s proposals still have shortfalls from 2014-2020.
“I don’t think it’s a foregone conclusion that we’re going to do this [CEV development] no matter what,” Bart Gordon, the ranking Democrat on the committee, said. “There is a point at which we might very well say, ‘This is too expensive. This is not working. Let’s stop, cut our losses.’”
Whether or not a return to the Moon will survive a change of leadership in Washington, DC remains to be seen. If only the CEV could be carried aloft by the soaring budget problems, we could get there next week.