Tuesday, July 27, 1999 Published at 10:24 GMT 11:24 UK
Republicans demand huge Nasa cuts
Nasa would have to cancel some missions
By BBC News Online Science Editor Dr David Whitehouse
The American space agency Nasa is facing the most devastating cuts in its 41-year history.
The savings could force the cancellation of many space exploration missions, including those to Mars. The cuts could even lead to the closure of one of Nasa's three main space centres.
Just a week after America celebrated the 30th anniversary of the first Moonwalk, a House appropriations sub-committee voted to slash the agency's funding to $12.3bn in 2000. That is $1.3bn below President Clinton's request and $1.4bn below Nasa's current spending.
Dan Goldin warned that the cuts would also jeopardise space shuttle safety and prolong the assembly of the International Space Station (ISS).
'Layoffs will be significant'
The space station, Nasa's biggest project, would receive $2.4bn, $100m more than this year. But the bill cut $150m for Earth-observing missions, $75m off the Mars exploration budget and $150m from the shuttle programme.
If the proposed cuts remain intact when they pass through the Senate, Mr Goldin said he would be forced to assemble a task force to reshape the agency and decide where to trim its work force. "Layoffs will be significant," he said.
"The Nasa budget has been devastated. We are not happy."
Republican James Walsh, one of the main advocates of the cuts, said the bill reflected the committee's determination to live within stringent spending limits imposed by Congress.
He described the measures as difficult and painful but added that there was still much discussion to come. Further negotiations are expected to result in a higher final settlement.
"We're at about the bottom of the third in a nine-inning ball game," he said.
ISS delays possible
Mr Goldin said the cuts would force Nasa to change its plans to launch six or seven shuttles a year.
Because most shuttle flights in the near future are dedicated to the assembly and supply of the ISS, the restricted programme would extend the timetable to complete the station's construction in late 2004 by at least two years.
Also facing cancellation is the last of Nasa's so-called great observatories, the Shuttle Infrared Space Telescope Facility. This is intended to search for planetary systems around nearby stars. It is due to be launched in 2001.
Because Nasa has many fixed costs, the brunt of the proposed costs would fall on forthcoming space exploration missions. Also facing the axe are the recently announced Messenger mission to Mercury and the Deep Impact mission to a comet.
Louis Friedman of the Planetary Society said that the cuts would do "terrible harm to America's future."