If NASA's space program is the absolute last thing on your mind, it's not surprising. But while other government agencies are facing cutbacks, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's budget is increasing, with an extra $6 billion being handed over to the development of new space initiatives over the next five years. NASA stands by the plan, claiming that new programs will take scientific research in space into the future. But some critics say that the President Barack Obama's allocation of the budget is unrealistic; others are wondering where - on Earth - those funds could be spent. (BABs are part of the recovery act created by the Obama administration. Find out how they work and whether they could work for you, in Build America Bonds: Should You Buy?)
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  • $19 Billion
    The amount President Obama requested to spend on the NASA space program for the 2011 fiscal year last February. Funds would be reallocated to focus on developing higher quality and more cost-effective technologies in space exploration, robotics missions, development of heavy-lift rocket systems that would make traveling to space faster and easier. The government made a spending request of $100 billion that would go to NASA over the next five years.

  • $2.5 Billion
    The estimated cost of closing out the controversial Constellation program, which will be canceled by the Obama administration when approved by Congress. The program supports human flight into space, including sending a rocket called Ares I to the moon. The administration called it "over budget, behind schedule, and lacking in innovation due to a failure to invest in critical new technologies."

    But Congress is waiting to be convinced that turning to private companies to construct spacecrafts will not be any more affordable or effective. Watchdog groups like Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW), which are skeptical of the return on investment (ROI) in manned space exploration, applaud Obama's initiative. "As romantic and inspirational as space flight is, the brutal reality is that the Constellation program has become a symbol of the 'old NASA,'" said CAGW President Tom Schatz. (The President's political party is correlated to market performance. Find out which party tends to outperform, in For Higher Stock Returns, Vote Republican Or Democrat?)

  • 10,000
    The number of jobs, nationwide, that the President hopes to create by investing in the private sector and by upgrading the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida.

  • 2004
    The year former President George W. Bush announced the Vision for Space Exploration plan. The Constellation program made its debut in this report, which would replace the Space Shuttle exploration program once the International Space Station was completed in 2010. The report came in part as a response to the investigation of the deaths of seven astronauts on the Space Shuttle Columbia. The investigation said space exploration needed a clearer vision. "This cause of exploration and discovery is not an option we choose; it is a desire written in the human heart," Bush was quoted in the Vision for Space Exploration report.

  • 50
    The number of years NASA has been in the business of launching space shuttles. Now, there are just four launches left, each with a price tag at approximately $450 million. The International Space Station will be complete after these final materials are shuttled to the research centre that orbits Earth. (A president's campaign trail promises often come up against economic reality. Read more, in Talk Is Cheap: Campaign Promises And The Economy.)

The Bottom Line
If the cancellation of the Constellation program is approved, it will mark a new direction for the NASA space program - away from the days of moon landings and manned space flight, and into a new age of scientific research, with the completion of the International Space Station.

"We will blaze a new trail of discovery and development," assured NASA administrator Charlie Bolden. "We will facilitate the growth of new commercial industries. And we will expand our understanding of the Earth, our solar system, and the universe beyond." (For more, see Budget Like The Government.)

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