During the presidential campaign, Barack Obama said his administration "would support a robust research and technology development program that addresses the long-term needs for future human and robotic missions. He supports a funding goal that maintains at least 10 percent of the total exploration systems budget for research and development."
The administration's proposed fiscal year 2011 budget would go a long way toward achieving this goal.
Under the heading of "Exploration Research & Development," the proposed budget would spend $7.8 billion over five years on the demonstration of technologies related to future exploration activities, such as in-orbit refueling and storage; $3.1 billion over five years on research and development for new propulsion technologies; and $3 billion over five years for robotic missions to scout for future human destinations in space. Together, these three efforts would account for well over half of the Exploration directorate's budget. In addition, the administration added a space technology line to the new Aerospace and Space Research and Technology account.
As with all elements of the president's budget, nothing is final until Congress passes the relevant appropriations bills and the president signs them. In the case of research and development spending, securing the degree of investment the president wants hinges on his administration's ability to wring savings from its proposed cancellation of Constellation, the next-generation system for launching humans into space. (Some of the money would come from a less controversial source, the end of the space shuttle program.) That system has already cost NASA $9 billion, not counting $2.5 in winding-down costs over the next two fiscal years, and its defenders in Congress could pose an obstacle to the president's broader space agenda.
That said, the president has not only stated clear goals for research and development related to space but has proposed significant levels of funding. He promised to "support" a robust research and technology development program, and we think he has clearly done that, even though Congress has not yet acted to implement it. We are moving this promise from Stalled to Promise Kept.