R&D would rise from $3.1 billion this year to $3.6 billion under the proposal for fiscal year 1988. The fastest growing program within that category is the Space Station, projected to grow from $420 million this year to $767 million in the new budget.
That increase, however, may draw fire from a Congress worried about trimming the federal deficit. "It's right where it has to be" to support ongoing programs, said a staff member of the House Science and Technology Committee, who requested anonymity, about the proposal: But he predicted that "it's going to come under very close scrutiny, and it may be in trouble" when the time comes to decide how much to spend.
NASA Administrator James C. Fletcher insisted at a news briefing that assembly of the Space Station would begin in 1992 and that by 1994 it would become a permanently manned facility (with perhaps half a dozen astronauts) in low earth orbit.
With the Space Shuttle unavailable for at least another year, the space science and applications portion of the NASA budget will remain essentially flat next year, at $1.5 billion. Included in that figure is a drop in funding for planetary exploration, from $358 million to $307 million.
The other three areas of space science and applications show modest increases: spending for physics and astronomy are scheduled to rise from $552 million this year to $567 million in the new budget; life sciences from $72 million to $75 million; and space applications from $544 million to $559 million.
The only "new start" will be a modest $25 million down payment to initiate U.S. participation in the five-year, $410 million Global Geospace Science Mission, a cooperative effort with the European Space Agency and Japan. But Fletcher said the agency is committed to such programs already approved as the Hubble Space Telescope, scheduled for launch from the shuttle in 1988, the Gamma Ray Observatory, the Magellan mission to Venus, the Galileo mission to Jupiter, the Mars Observer, the Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite and the Ulysses Solar Observatory.
Funding for the aeronautics and space technology portion of the NASA budget is slated to rise from $592 million to $691 million. Two programs account for virtually all of this growth: the National Aerospace Plane and a new program, known as civil space technology, to expand NASA's technology base.
The National Aerospace Plane, which received $45 million this year after President Reagan announced plans for an "Orient Express" in his 1986 State of the Union speech, is scheduled to get $66 million next year in a cooperative effort with the Department of Defense. Civil space technology, due to receive $70 million next year, involves in-house research in propulsion, orbital transfer vehicles, multispectral sensors, high capacity power systems and the development of autonomous systems needed to assemble the Space Station.