Could Congress shortchange commercial crew funding?

When the Obama Administration released its FY2011 budget one year ago Tuesday, the proposal called for spending $6 billion over five years on commercial crew development. After the extended debate on the subject the near-term spending on the program was trimmed in the authorization bill to $1.3 billion in 2011-2013, compared to $3.3 billion over the same period in the budget proposal. However, there was a long-term, if informal, plan expressed by people like Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) to commit the full $6 billion to the program over six years, instead of five, implying that commercial crew development spending would ramp up significantly in the 2014-2016 period.

But at least one official doesn’t think that additional money will come, at least at that level. An anonymous Senate aide told the New York Times that the $6 billion over six years won’t materialize. “They’re not getting $6 billion over six years for commercial crew,” the aide said. “That’s never going to happen.” The article didn’t go into specifics about why the aide felt that way, but certainly ongoing debates about cutting federal spending would play a key role. The aide instead suggested the commercial crew program “might receive half that much”. That would restrict NASA’s ability to support multiple providers–Orbital Sciences, for example, estimates a development cost of $3.5-4 billion for its proposed system–and/or also force companies to shoulder a greater burden of development costs.


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