The USA's presidential election could leave NASA short of the funding it needs to keep its Orion crew exploration vehicle and Ares I booster project on track for their planned maiden flight in March 2015.
If Congress fails to approve the federal government's fiscal year 2009 budget before the period begins on 1 October - the election is on 4 November - US law dictates that spending would continue at FY2008 budget levels. In NASA's case, that would leave Orion/Ares $350 million short of what the agency is planning for and push the first flight back to July 2014. Orion's first flight has already been delayed from 2013 in anticipation of a 2018 return to the Moon that is itself now set for 2020.
Above: Ares I crew launch vehicles launches Orion exploration vehicle
NASA's exploration systems mission directorate's associate administrator Richard Gilbrech, when asked on 3 April by a US House of Representatives space and aeronautics subcommittee about the likely impact of the current US presidential election year leading to no approval for the space agency's FY2009 budget, said: "A year-long continuing resolution means a $350 million reduction for exploration [systems] and we estimate that for every $100 million reduction we lose a month, [so for $350 million] we would lose four months."
The FY2008 appropriations bill as passed by Congress and signed into law by President Bush on 26 December 2007 - three months into the fiscal year - gave NASA the $17.3 billion it had requested and did not cut Constellation funding the agency got $49 million more than it wanted for Ares development.