The Obama administration’s proposed 2012 National Aeronautics and Space Administration budget, expected to total more than $18.5 billion, scales back funding for private rockets and spacecraft intended to take astronauts into orbit, according to government and industry officials.



An Ares I-X test rocket launches at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla. The Ares projects were targeted for cancellation last year.


The White House’s spending plan for manned space exploration seeks to avoid last year’s confrontation between Congress and President Barack Obama, according to government and industry officials.

Slated to be released Monday, it also envisions stepped-up international cooperation, despite widespread space and scientific budget cutbacks in Europe.

Mr. Obama’s earlier bid to slash the agency’s traditional manned programs for allegedly being too slow and expensive sparked opposition on Capitol Hill.

Lawmakers also balked at White House proposals to outsource some core NASA functions by shifting much of the agency’s focus to promote what have been called commercial space taxis.

America’s Space Odyssey

This time, these officials said, the agency’s request is likely to track major elements of a bipartisan compromise Congress eventually approved last year.

That package restricted funding for commercial-space efforts but identified about $11 billion over five years—substantially more than the White House requested—to accelerate government development of heavy-lift rockets able to reach deeper into space.

For 2012, the bipartisan agreement envisioned roughly $18.7 billion in overall NASA expenditures.

Last week, Lori Garver, NASA’s deputy administrator, told an industry conference in Washington that the new budget would be broadly consistent with that compromise, though she didn’t elaborate.

Days later, Rep. Frank Wolf, the Virginia Republican who heads the House appropriations subcommittee with authority over NASA, said the agency was “just wallowing” and lawmakers have been “concerned about the administration’s hostility toward manned spaceflight.”

Commercial-space projects are years behind schedule, and critics still worry about placing undue reliance on them.

After scrapping plans to return astronauts to the moon, Mr. Obama set a 2025 goal for getting to an asteroid. And he has also talked about sending U.S. astronauts to Mars five years later.

But NASA’s funding remains in flux, and officials have warned they may need more money and time than Congress has provided to build a heavy-lift rocket capable of reaching either destination.

The White House’s vision for NASA also is likely to emphasize the contributions of the agency’s research to U.S. innovation, economic vitality and competitiveness.

But with House Republican leaders looking for deeper NASA cuts, and some of them targeting agency initiatives to assess climate-change, U.S. space programs could continue to be buffeted by conflicting budget signals.

In a recent letter to the White House, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid warned that “any digression from the hard fought compromise” hammered out in 2010 “would likely result in another year of turmoil for an already battered community.”

Last year. NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and White House aides were sharply criticized by all sides for failing to lay the political groundwork for the budget submission. As a result, this year they appear to be paying more attention to alerting interest groups about the thrust of the proposals.

There are signs that the White House is tempering its advocacy for commercial space. Jim Kohlenberger, chief of staff in the White House science office, last week announced his decision to leave the post. Mr. Kohlenberger was one of the initial architect’s of NASA’s controversial policy shift toward private space ventures.

On Monday, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden is expected to announce that he is consolidating certain offices overseeing shuttle and international space station operations with others responsible for developing next-generation space vehicles.

The goal is to have a single, comprehensive organization managing all aspects of human spaceflight.

In other ways, the upcoming retirement of the space shuttle fleet could force unprecedented changes to NASA’s internal organization. Some high-level agency managers, for instance, are considering partnerships with companies or foreign governments that want to use the Johnson Space Center’s Mission Control facilities in Houston to plan, train or oversee their own manned missions.

Write to Andy Pasztor at

Copyright 2011 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved


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