CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – With the moon on its horizon, NASA (search) sees a slight increase in the budget proposed by President Bush on Monday, but it's not enough to save the Hubble Space Telescope (search).
Only $93 million in the space agency's $16.45 billion budget would go toward Hubble's survival: $75 million to develop a kamikaze robot that would steer the orbiting observatory into the ocean at the end of its lifetime, and $18 million to try to eke out as much scientific observing time as possible from the telescope through clever remote controlling.
No money is in the budget to send either a robotic repairman or shuttle astronauts to Hubble to extend its lifetime, a decision that is sure to anger astronomers and members of Congress. Late last year, a National Academy of Sciences (search) panel recommended one final visit to Hubble by astronauts.
The proposed budget for NASA — 2.4 percent higher than last year's — sets aside $9.6 billion for science, aeronautics and exploration, and $6.7 billion for exploration capabilities. That includes $4.5 billion for the space shuttle program, on track for resuming flights this year for the first time since the 2003 Columbia disaster, and $1.85 billion for the international space station.
Just over a year ago, Bush announced a new exploration vision for NASA geared around returning astronauts to the moon by 2020. Everything now revolves around that.
NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe said even though the space agency is not getting as much money as envisioned by the president a year ago, a 2.4 percent budget increase is "rather remarkable" given the federal deficit and the spending cuts elsewhere in the government.
As for Hubble, O'Keefe said the National Academy of Sciences panel presented such a bleak assessment of a robotic mission to install new parts on the space telescope that it made little sense to presume success and, consequently, no money was put aside for such an endeavor.
"We'll see. In a month's time, there may be an epiphany," O'Keefe said. "But I think it's going to be a very difficult mountain, a steep hill, to climb."
O'Keefe reiterated his long-held view that a shuttle flight to Hubble poses too many dangers in the wake of the Columbia catastrophe.
"It is a judgment call and this is a judgment call that is my responsibility for however period of time that I reside here," said O'Keefe, who will leave NASA in less than two weeks to assume the chancellor's job at Louisiana State University.