Mikulski cites peril of space station cuts

February 16, 1994|By Frank D. Roylance | Frank D. Roylance,Sun Staff Writer

GREENBELT — An article in The Sun yesterday should have stated that the expected cost of NASA's planned Space Station Freedom during the next five years is $10.5 billion.

The Sun regrets the errors.

GREENBELT -- Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski warned Maryland's aerospace contractors yesterday that budget "hawks" and "doves" in Congress are both gunning for NASA's planned space station this year.

The Maryland Democrat told more than 400 members of the Maryland Space Business Roundtable that budget hawks, swept up by a deficit-cutting fever, are on "a red-alert for techno-pork."

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

Having killed the Superconducting Supercollider last year, she said, the hawks are targeting the space station "without a view to the consequences except for reducing the deficit, and reducing the deficit now."

Budget doves, on the other hand, are looking for big-ticket science and technology programs to raid for more money for human services programs, such as the Department of Veterans Affairs and Housing and Urban Development.

The administration has proposed a 2 percent increase overall -- or about $1.6 billion -- for the 55 agencies under Ms. Mikulski's appropriations subcommittee, which handles HUD, Veterans Affairs and independent agencies. But "that is not enough," she said.

"We do need a balanced budget," said Ms. Mikulski, whose subcommittee oversees NASA's budget. "But I believe we need to do it in a prudent way that . . . makes investments in science and technology so that our recovery will be permanent into the 21st century."

In its proposed fiscal 1995 budget, the Clinton administration is seeking a $250 million cut in NASA's $14.3 billion budget -- the agency's first cutback in 21 years.

About $9 billion has already been obligated for the space station, and nothing has been built. It is expected to cost $10.5 million more over the next five years.

The budget would freeze the space station's allocation for fiscal 1995 at this year's $2.1 billion. Ms. Mikulski believes that's too little, although she could not say by how much.

"We need to go on our own alert to deal with this," said Ms. Mikulski, a former space station critic who converted after it was scaled down. "Although what we do at NASA may not have immediate applied benefit . . . we will be able to do strategic and basic research that the private sector can develop into products we cannot now even dream of."

Many space scientists have argued that they could learn more from smaller, quicker and cheaper space projects.

The Clinton administration seems to be moving that way. NASA figures through fiscal 1997 show manned space flight declining as a percentage of NASA's overall budget from 47 percent this year to 38 percent. Space science shows an increase from 34 percent to 42 percent over the same period.

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