In recent years, NASA has been hit pretty hard, and another hit may be coming.
We're a long ways off from the days when JFK told the nation that the United States would put a man on the moon, and in recent years, what with the Great Recession, space exploration seems to have taken a backseat. Hell, it's been rolled up and stuck in the trunk next to that grape soda the U.S. budget took to the beach that time and never bothered to take out of the trunk.
NASA is facing more budget cuts if the sequester goes through next year, according to NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. Bolden was in town this week and he told an audience at the Johnson Space Center that if sequester stays in place next year -- bringing automatic budget cuts dropping NASA's budget from $17.7 billion to below the current level of $16.8 billion -- it would hit Johnson Space Center along with the rest of the program, according to what he told KUHF.
The space program's funding has already been slashed, to the point that we now have to hitch a ride with the Russians if we want to go into outer space (You know that Neil Armstrong is rolling over in his grave over that one) and now NASA will lose more than $1 billion in funding next year if the sequester continues.
Things are bad enough for the program in general, but Houston's own Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center has taken a lot of body blows as the funding and interest in space travel have faded. Which is worth noting since Houston has been at the center of the whole darned thing since Johnson Space Center was created in September 1961. When Neil Armstrong landed on the moon, one of the first words he said was "Houston." (We wish it was the first word, but it was more like the third.)
When Jim Lovell realized that they were in big trouble, it was immediately "Houston, we have a problem." Because the Mission Control guys, armed with slide rules, who could fix the problems were IN Houston.
We named our baseball team after this whole space thing (though let's not talk too much about the Astros just now.) We called our pro basketball team the Rockets. We call this town "Space City" when we want to get all nickname-ish about it. Because Houston has been at the center of the space program for decades and damn proud of that fact.
So, yeah, when Johnson Space Center didn't get a space shuttle, we were kind of hurt. When President Obama increased NASA's budget by $6 billion but scrapped the moon mission, we might have taken it a little personally. When NASA announced they'd be sending astronauts into deep space and Mars within six years, we were all a little excited, but then the budget didn't get increased from 2010 to 2011, and in 2012 it got cut by more than $1 billion.
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It seems a little challenging to live out Ray Bradury's The Martian Chronicles if we can't even afford to go to the moon. All of which has seemed a lot like a faltering space program, no matter how many times we all tell ourselves that we'll be colonizing Mars any day now. That kind of sucks if you grew up taking a hell of a lot of pride in Houston's Johnson Space Center and the Star Trek-like ambitions that seemed to be wrapped up in all of it. (Okay, so Star Trek was about peaceful exploration and Tom Wolfe wasn't the first to point out we started sending astronauts into outer space because the Russian cosmonauts scared the hell out of everybody, but now is not the time to dwell on that.)
That was then, this is now.
"At the $16.8 billion level, there's no way in the world they can continue to operate a center like JSC at the level of employment they have right now. So not only will our contractors feel it the way they are now, but we'll have to probably begin to furlough civil servants. So I feel good about the budget proposal. I wish I felt better about the Congress's ability to see the seriousness of the problem and solve sequester," he said, according to KUHF.
So first we don't get a shuttle, and now there could be layoffs? Maybe they could start a fundraiser to help that budget out. They could send astronauts door to door selling space ice cream. That stuff is awesome. Because astronauts eat it in outer space.