By Peter N. Spotts writer of The Christian Science Monitor
The Christian Science Monitor
Think of Solomon in a space suit.
That sums up the role of NASA head Michael Griffin as he tries to balance President Bush's vision for manned spaceflight with the hard realities of a $16.8 billion budget next year.
It's more money than the National Aeronautics and Space Administration received this year. But the agency must find $3 billion to $5 billion for the shuttle flights to finish the International Space Station and it must field a replacement for the space shuttles to send astronauts back to the moon by 2020.
To close that gap, NASA proposes to pare aeronautics research by 14 percent. Even space science - which the agency often touts as among its "crown jewels" - will see its budget grow by only about 1 percent over each of the next five years. That means NASA won't be able to deploy an orbital space telescope designed to look for Earth- like planets around other stars or explore Jupiter's icy moon Europa - both highlighted in the president's blueprint for US space exploration and high priorities among astronomers.
The agency budget "does not buy all of the things that were on NASA's plate when I took this office" last April, said Dr. Griffin at a budget briefing Monday. Despite earlier pledges that money for finishing the space station would not come from the agency's science portfolio, the new budget in effect shifts roughly $2 billion to the space station account. "I wish we hadn't had to do it," Griffin said. "But that's what we needed to do."
Yet the budget also breaks ground for NASA, which proposes to invest $500 million over five years to nurture a fledgling commercial-rocket industry outside the usual cast of major aerospace characters. …