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Sequestration cuts in 2014 put NASA timetable in peril

6:43 AM, Apr 24, 2013   |    comments
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One NASA plan calls for an unmanned craft to deploy an asteroid-nabbing apparatus before hauling the space rock closer to Earth. Once in lunar orbit, a crew would fly from Earth to take a closer look at the deep-space asteroid.

 

 

WASHINGTON (Florida Today) -- NASA's agenda of missions beyond low-Earth orbit would face delays if the federal government has to weather another year of sequestration spending cuts, a top agency official told a Senate panel Tuesday.

A flight to corral an asteroid and explore it in 2021 as well as a crewed journey to Mars sometime during the 2030s - which some critics say isn't soon enough - are among projects that would be pushed back by continued budget-trimming, William Gerstenmaier, NASA's chief of human exploration, told members of a Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation subcommittee.

If the forced budget cuts remain in effect during fiscal 2014, which begins Oct. 1, "we can't deliver the programs that we committed to you that we would deliver," Gerstenmaier said.

"We can tolerate the (fiscal) 2013 sequester because we're prepared," he told members of the Science and Space Subcommittee. "But if it continues into '14, the programs and timetables I described, I don't believe we can continue to support it. This is really going to be tough for us moving forward."

The automatic cuts that began March 1 were agreed to under a 2011 deal Congress brokered with the White House to avoid defaulting on the national debt. Under its terms, deep cuts in domestic and defense programs would continue through fiscal 2021 unless Congress rescinds them.

Despite criticisms by both Democrats and Republicans, no compromise has yet been reached.

Sequestration already has slashed several hundred million dollars from NASA's budget. The agency earlier this month proposed a $17.7 billion budget for fiscal 2014 that would fund the asteroid mission, the Space Launch System and Orion vehicle for a Mars trip and other high-profile programs. That budget assumes Congress will find a way to avoid sequestration.

Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Florida, who chaired Tuesday's subcommittee hearing, said lawmakers will find a way to do that because Americans are increasingly exasperated.

"When people start waiting at an airport for three hours, when people start realizing that starving children are not getting their nutrition, when senior citizens are not getting their Meals on Wheels, there's going to be an outcry," he said after the hearing. "And eventually this nonsense of sequestration is going to get eliminated."

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