Sen. Jake Garn, R-Utah, and NASA officials worry that unless the 22 percent budget hike President Bush proposed for the space agency is approved, the entire space station project may be scrapped.
NASA has billed the space station as the first step away from Earth toward Mars and the stars.Garn, the ranking Republican on the Senate appropriations subcommittee that oversees NASA's budget, said in hearings Tuesday and Wednesday that current budgets before the Senate "are a billion short. This decreased funding level would eliminate the space station."
Bush has asked Garn's subcommittee to add in another $2.1 billion to the NASA budget, of which $1.2 billion would go for the space station.
When Subcommittee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., asked Acting NASA Administrator Dale Myers how much of that could be cut without scrapping the entire project, he said he guessed no more than $100 million or so - and would provide an exact figure in a few days.
"It's an integrated program. Cutting part out would be like trying to build an airplane without a wing or a house without a roof," he said.
Myers said because of past cuts and delays, the program is now at the point that it would be more wise to cut the entire program than continue cutting - because a "plane without wings" may result.
Garn complained that past delays in the project have increased its overall cost dramatically and now threaten its existence. He asked Myers to determine how much any more cuts from Bush's proposal would increase long-range costs of the station.
Garn said the space station is a program "in which we must continue to invest."