President Bush's plans to get to Mars may have run into trouble, courtesy of a move in the US House of Representatives to cut NASA's 2005 budget by $1.1bn.
However, according to a Senate subcommittee could yet come charging to the rescue, with a bill that would result in a $866m budget increase for NASA. The vote on the NASA Authorization Act of 2004 is scheduled for Thursday this week, Wired reports. If it passes, it will mean Congress can allocate NASA as much as $17.7bn per year for the next five years.
This battle for control of the budget will have huge consequences for NASA: if the Senate bill passes, all is fine and dandy, but if the appropriations bill proposed by the House is accepted, NASA will have to scale back plans drastically.
According to Wired the cuts would mean the budget for the Moon / Mars preparations would fall from $910m to just $372m; NASA would also have to scale back Project Prometheus - an ongoing attempt to build a nuclear rocket. Most significant is the suggestion that development of the next generation of Crew Exploration Vehicles (read: new shuttles) would have to be delayed.
If these cuts get passed as they stand, this is bad news indeed for Dubya: a Gallup poll shows 68 per cent of Americans are now keen on the idea of getting to Mars.
Wired quotes the House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, as saying that the cuts are unacceptable. In a written statement he said: "Yes, we are at war, just as we were when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. And yes, the budget is constricted. The president's space vision is my mission, and I am fully prepared to fight for it." ®