- The American space agency Nasa is facing the most devastating
cuts in its 41-year history.
- The savings could force the cancellation of many space
exploration missions, including those to Mars. The cuts could even lead
to the closure of one of Nasa's three main space centres.
- "We are talking about gutting space exploration,"
said Nasa's chief Dan Goldin. "Am I going to fight? You bet."
- Just a week after America celebrated the 30th anniversary
of the first Moonwalk, a House appropriations sub-committee voted to slash
the agency's funding to $12.3bn in 2000. That is $1.3bn below President
Clinton's request and $1.4bn below Nasa's current spending.
- Dan Goldin warned that the cuts would also jeopardise
space shuttle safety and prolong the assembly of the International Space
- 'Layoffs will be significant'
- The space station, Nasa's biggest project, would receive
$2.4bn, $100m more than this year. But the bill cut $150m for Earth-observing
missions, $75m off the Mars exploration budget and $150m from the shuttle
- If the proposed cuts remain intact when they pass through
the Senate, Mr Goldin said he would be forced to assemble a task force
to reshape the agency and decide where to trim its work force. "Layoffs
will be significant," he said.
- "The Nasa budget has been devastated. We are not
- Republican James Walsh, one of the main advocates of
the cuts, said the bill reflected the committee's determination to live
within stringent spending limits imposed by Congress.
- He described the measures as difficult and painful but
added that there was still much discussion to come. Further negotiations
are expected to result in a higher final settlement.
- "We're at about the bottom of the third in a nine-inning
ball game," he said.
- ISS delays possible
- Mr Goldin said the cuts would force Nasa to change its
plans to launch six or seven shuttles a year.
- Because most shuttle flights in the near future are dedicated
to the assembly and supply of the ISS, the restricted programme would extend
the timetable to complete the station's construction in late 2004 by at
least two years.
- The plan to send two unmanned missions every two years
to Mars is also now in jeopardy, he said.
- Also facing cancellation is the last of Nasa's so-called
great observatories, the Shuttle Infrared Space Telescope Facility. This
is intended to search for planetary systems around nearby stars. It is
due to be launched in 2001.
- Because Nasa has many fixed costs, the brunt of the proposed
costs would fall on forthcoming space exploration missions. Also facing
the axe are the recently announced Messenger mission to Mercury and the
Deep Impact mission to a comet.
- Louis Friedman of the Planetary Society said that the
cuts would do "terrible harm to America's future."