Obama Budget Still Goes to the Moon

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The president’s new budget proposes to end NASA’s Constellation program, a Bush initiative intended to put humans back on the moon by 2020. But Obama’s $3.8 trillion budget still goes to the moon figuratively—if you stacked 3.8 trillion one dollar bills, the pile would reach the moon with 20,000 miles to spare! 

The president’s proposal to end the Constellation isn’t sitting well with those members of Congress who enjoy large NASA spending in their districts. From the Washington Post:

“The president’s proposed NASA budget begins the death march for the future of U.S. human spaceflight,” Sen. Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.) said Monday. “If this budget is enacted, NASA will no longer be an agency of innovation and hard science. It will be the agency of pipe dreams and fairy tales.”
Rep. Pete Olson (R-Tex.) said, “This is a crippling blow to America’s human spaceflight program.”

Senator Shelby and Rep. Olson exaggerate – the proposal would only end government human space flight to the moon. Private entrepreneurs are likely to continue pushing into space, especially if we reduced the regulatory and tax burdens. 

The administration noted that the Constellation program was “over budget [and] behind schedule,” and that an independent review panel considered it “the least attractive approach to space exploration as compared to potential alternatives.” But this underscores an inherent flaw with a government operating with no legal or constitutional constraints on spending: Congress is generally more concerned with buying special interest support than national need.
 
While I give kudos to the Obama administration for proposing to end Constellation, they made the wrong decision by not putting the proceeds toward reducing the deficit. Instead, they are proposing that NASA receive a funding increase. A new GAO report on poor acquisition management at NASA, which has been on the GAO’s “high risk” list since 1990, shows why the budget increase is unwarranted.
 
From the GAO: 
However, 9 of the 10 projects that have been in the implementation phase for several years experienced cost growth ranging from 8 to 68 percent, and launch delays of 8 to 33 months, in the past 3 years. These 10 projects had average development cost growth of almost $121.1 million—or 18.7 percent—and schedule growth of 15 months, and a total increase in development cost of over $1.2 billion, with over half of this total—or $706.6 million—occurring in the last year. 

See this essay for more on cost overruns in government programs.