Shifts in Space

NASA spending takes new twists and turns as agency looks to change destinations and ways of getting there.

In its 2006 strategic plan, NASA began focusing its energies and resources on retiring the space shuttle and revamping its exploration missions in the coming years. In fiscal 2009, the space agency's spending continued to focus on those objectives, while contributing to the governmentwide goal of aiding the economic recovery.

Its strategic blueprint includes retiring the space shuttle in 2010, completing the International Space Station, refocusing the human spaceflight program on exploration, replacing the shuttle with a new crew exploration vehicle, encouraging partnerships with the commercial space sector, and establishing a lunar return program to facilitate later missions to Mars and other destinations.

President Obama has altered some of these plans, most notably returning to the moon, opting to abandon attempts at a lunar landing in favor of a focus on landing on Mars. This shift will affect spending in coming years.

In fiscal 2009, the space shuttle program flew five successful missions, increasing the crew size on the International Space Station and refurbishing the Hubble Space Telescope. NASA also announced awards for two cargo resupply services contracts worth $3.5 billion, under which the agency teams with industry to transport provisions to the space station.

The contractors, Space Exploration Technologies Corp. and Orbital Sciences Corp., were hired to develop unmanned vehicles for cargo resupply. Space Exploration Technologies would provide a vehicle to carry pressurized cargo to the space station and back to Earth. Orbital Sciences' vehicle would deliver cargo but then load up waste from the space station and dispose of it by burning up upon re-entry into Earth's atmosphere, similar to the Russian Progress spacecraft.

Like other federal agencies, NASA had to shift its focus in fiscal 2009 to handle the influx of money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The agency received about $1 billion under the stimulus, with instructions to focus on science, exploration, aeronautics, oversight and cross-agency support. With its Recovery Act funds, NASA stepped up climate research, supercomputing capabilities, and research and development in aviation safety, environmental protection and the Next-Generation Air Transportation System.

It also used the funding to "develop capabilities essential to maintaining a robust exploration program," including partnerships with the private sector to create technologies that would allow commercial human spaceflight.

The agency also spent Recovery Act funds to restore critical NASA-owned facilities damaged by hurricanes in 2008.

Click here for the top 25 NASA contractors.

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