Currently, NASA's projected budgets (from the FY10 budget package) would provide approximately $12B over a decade to develop planetary missions (http://futureplanets.blogspot.com/2009/09/thoughts-on-scary-messages.html). There has been talk that NASA would receive an increase next year to put the manned spaceflight program back on track. Also, there are long term promises to increase spending on science programs of all types. Given the competing pressures, several scenarios could play out; for example:
- All NASA programs receive budget increases
- The manned portion of NASA's budget receives an increase but the science program remains flat at best or is cut
- All NASA programs receive budget cuts
Editorial Thoughts: Whatever happens to NASA's budget next year, the political pressure to reduce deficits seems strong in both parties. We may see multiple cuts to the planetary program over the coming decade. Given this, in my opinion, a key measure of the success of the Decadal Survey is to propose a prioritized set of missions that remains robust even in the face of declining budgets (and likely cost overruns on some early missions in the queue). It is quite possible that the lower priority missions will never fly because of insufficient funds. An interesting question is whether the Survey will prioritize smaller missions (support a diversity of targets) or larger missions (in-depth study of one to two targets) as higher priorities.
*Budget Primer: I find the budgeting processes of other nations confusing and suspect that many of this blog's readers may find the U.S. process confusing. There are four large pots of spending in the U.S. budget: Entitlements (social security and medical funding for retirees, etc.) at 54%, payment of interest on the national debt 8%, military spending 21%, and everything else 17%. (Breakdown from FY08 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_federal_budget) Interest spending cannot be avoided, and it is politically challenging to cut entitlements and military spending. Therefore, attempts to reduce deficit spending tend to fall on the everything else category that includes NASA, the FBI, national parks, and many other functions.