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NASA Needs Additional $5 Billion To Keep Shuttle Flying Until 2010

By Warren E. Leary
THE NEW YORK TIMES


WASHINGTON

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration needs up to $5 billion more than previously budgeted to operate the space shuttle before the program ends in 2010, and the agency is looking for ways to reduce the shortfall, Michael D. Griffin, the agency administrator, said Thursday.

Testifying before the House Science Committee, Griffin said the cost of operating the shuttle fleet before it is retired was higher than expected.

NASA is trying to find savings in the shuttle program to avoid hurting other agency projects, while still flying enough shuttle missions to fulfill obligations to finish the International Space Station, he said.

Griffin said “painful choices” may be needed to continue President Bush’s plan to send people back to the moon before 2020.

To ease budget pressure, NASA already had announced cutting half its planned space station research, severely reducing a program to develop nuclear power for space applications and delaying planned space astronomy missions.

Rep. Sherwood Boehlert, R-N.Y., and chairman of the committee, praised Griffin for making tough choices in reorganizing NASA and reducing spending during his six-month tenure at the agency. But Boehlert said NASA continued to be afflicted with an old problem of having more programs than money to pay for them.

“There is simply not enough money in NASA’s budget to carry out all the tasks it is undertaking on the current schedule,” he said.

Boehlert said he did not see how NASA could fulfill its commitment to complete the space station, develop a shuttle replacement called the Crew Exploration Vehicle by 2012 and maintain the agency’s science programs with the flat NASA budgets forecast for the near future.

Rep. Bart Gordon, D-Tenn., the ranking Democrat on the committee, said he supported the Bush administration’s “vision of space exploration,” taking humans to the moon and eventually to Mars if money is found to do it without cannibalizing NASA’s other programs in science and aeronautics.

“I am very concerned that this administration may not be willing to pay for the vision that it presented to the nation 21 months ago,” Gordon said.

Griffin said that his agency would have to cancel or defer a number of programs, some of which he considered priority, to sustain the exploration initiative.