How will NASA plan to “win the future” in its budget request?

Later today the Obama Administration will release its fiscal year 2012 budget proposal, with NASA planning a press conference this afternoon to discuss details of its proposed budget, adopting the “win the future” theme that the president rolled out in his State of the Union address last month. The atmosphere this year is very different than the rollout of the FY11 budget proposal, which the vehicle the administration used to make sweeping changes to the agency; any changes in this budget request are more likely to be evolutionary rather than revolutionary in nature.

Few details about what will be in the budget proposal have leaked out in advance of today’s official release. The Wall Street Journal does report in today’s edition that the agency is “scaling back” funding for commercial crew development. However, the article doesn’t say what that cutback in commercial crew funding is in respect to. If it’s compared to the 2012 projection in the administration’s FY11 budget request, which called for $1.4 billion, that is almost certainly correct, especially since the NASA authorization act passed last year included only $500 million for commercial crew development in 2012. It would be more newsworthy if the administration’s commercial crew request was less than that $500-million figure, especially since the article also indicates that the budget proposal “would be broadly consistent” with the act. (The article also deadpans that “Commercial-space projects are years behind schedule”; that is correct in some cases, such as when one looks Orbital’s and SpaceX’s progress compared to their original COTS schedules, but then again, government space programs are hardly paragons of punctuality.)

Separately, the Journal reported last week that some military space programs may get budget increases in the 2012 proposal, including the EELV program, as the Defense Department seeks to make more bulk buys to get long-term savings–which could trickle down to other EELV users, such as NASA and commercial providers. However, some in Congress may be skeptical of increased spending on EELV in particular: a Defense News article last week quoted Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-MD), ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, as suggesting the Defense Department should seek alternatives to United Launch Alliance. “The U.S. is spending more per rocket launch and battling more delays than anywhere else,” he said in the February 10th hearing. “That is because the United States has committed to a two-company alliance to handle all launches, despite the fact that other U.S. companies are showing promise.”


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