President's budget would hit NASA, Alabama hard

HUNTSVILLE, AL. (WSFA/AP) - Alabama's representatives are speaking out against the Obama administration's proposed NASA budget, which would discontinue a major program at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville.

Senator Richard Shelby (R) said Monday the budget plan would begin a "death march" for the future of human space flight. He says Congress shouldn't allow what he calls the "reckless abandonment" of the program.

Senator Jeff Sessions (R) also came out in opposition to the budget saying, "The effect of President Obama's proposal is that the United States would no longer be an international leader in space exploration."

The President's plan comes to light on a dark day for NASA, the seventh anniversary of the Columbia disaster. Sessions argued that the president's plan "abandons our nation's nearly five-decade commitment to human space flight and will likely result in NASA taking a back seat to China, Russia, and India in space exploration."

The administration's budget doesn't include money for the Constellation program, which includes the Ares rocket being managed by the Marshall center at Redstone Arsenal. The goal was to return Americans to the moon and eventually send astronauts to Mars.

The White House Office of Management and Budget released a statement Monday in which it said the program "was over budget, behind schedule, and lacking in innovation...Using a broad range of criteria an independent review panel determined that even if fully funded, NASA's program to repeat many of the achievements of the Apollo era, 50 years later, was the least attractive approach to space exploration as compared to potential alternatives."

Hundreds of people are working on the project in north Alabama. NASA already has spent more than $9 billion on Constellation.

Even some in the President's own party, including Alabama's Agriculture Commissioner Ron Sparks, say the plan will hurt Alabama.

"The moon mission has contributed to endless technological breakthroughs and has provided countless jobs for Alabama. This move will not only cripple the Huntsville area economically, but the whole state," Sparks, who is running for governor in 2010, said.

It's not a done deal, however. "In the end", Senator Sessions says, "the president's budget is a proposal. Congress has the power of the purse, and I expect a long, difficult battle over the future of this critical program as the 2011 budget and appropriations process plays out."

(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. WSFA 12 News contributed to this report. All Rights Reserved.)