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Study Finds NASA Overloaded With Tasks and Short on Money

By Warren E. Leary


NASA has too many tasks and too little money to maintain a vigorous science program, a situation that threatens to erode the nation’s leadership in space research and the goal of eventually sending humans to Mars, the National Research Council reported Thursday. “There is a mismatch between what NASA has been assigned to do and the resources with which it has been provided,” said Lennard A. Fisk, chairman of the council’s Space Studies Board, which wrote the report at the request of Congress.

“We are particularly concerned that the shortfall in funding for science has fallen disproportionately on small missions and on funding for basic research and technology,” said Fisk, a space science professor at the University of Michigan and a former NASA associate administrator for science.

NASA has come under heavy criticism from scientists since the administration proposed the agency’s 2007 budget, which requested $16.8 billion, including $5.3 billion for space science. But while money would be added to continue flying the space shuttle and completing the International Space Station, the science budget would be held about even for the following four years — $3.1 billion less than officials had expected from earlier estimates.

Michael D. Griffin, the NASA administrator, said he had no choice but to take money from science and from the new human exploration program to pay to keep the shuttle flying until it was retired in 2010.

The budgeting jeopardizes the Bush administration’s plan for human exploration of the moon and Mars, the report said. Fisk said that because Congress had requested his group’s report, the committee felt free to recommend that lawmakers allocate more money for NASA to correct expected deficiencies in science. It would take only a relatively small amount directed at the most critical areas to carry NASA science through the five years, he said. “It would take about 1 percent of NASA’s total budget per year, about $160 million, to ameliorate the damage to research and analysis, and the small missions,” Fisk said in an interview.