Proposed budget steers NASA in a new direction

February 1, 2010 7:14:30 PM PST
President Barack Obama's budget will have a profound impact on NASA. Its budget is not being cut, but the way NASA will have to spend the money is going to change, and that includes scrapping a new mission to the moon.

When you or your team have discovered almost half the planets in the known universe, there is certain relief at federal budget time in knowing you are safe.

Dr. Geoff Marcy of UC Berkeley is a Kepler astronomer and one of many people funded by NASA who viewed Monday's space budget with more than a little curiosity. He is not mourning the scrapped constellation program that would have returned us to the moon.

"The truth of the matter is that most of the compelling science questions regarding our moon have already been answered," he said.

The difference in this new NASA budget is not so much the money, as where it will take us and how, and with whom and what. It envisions using commercial rockets and international crews to explore and extend the life of the International Space Station.

The agency put a good spin on it today.

"We will seek new ideas from many sources, seeding innovation across the country and creating a space exploration program worthy of the 21st century," said NASA deputy administrator Lori Garver.

At NASA Ames in Mountain View on Monday, they neither talked, nor speculated about the budget's impact -- at least not for reporters. But some of the missions they have run there could provide models for the future.

Missions with men cost much more than those with robots. But is it better to know than experience?

"This is a debate of the human heart, you would say," said Marcy. "The science, the cold facts, learning about the nature of Saturn and Mars and Jupiter can be done with instruments."

And so we will, but first apparently, we must explore that budget even further.