WASHINGTON, Dec. 30 (UPI) -- The 2011 federal fiscal budget will determine how soon NASA can afford to send astronauts to the moon or Mars, space policy experts said.
"The next authorization will really set the path of NASA for the next 10 to 20 years," said Rep. Bart Gordon, D-Tenn., head of the House Science and Technology Committee.
In October, the U.S. Human Space Flight Committee urged President Barack Obama to increase NASA's funding to about $22 billion a year -- $3 billion more than it received in the 2010 budget.
The committee said NASA's current funding put it on an "unsustainable trajectory" to finance projects such as circumnavigating the moon and Mars or land on one of Mars' moons during the next 15 years.
Obama, who has described himself as a passionate supporter of the space program, must balance additional funding for NASA against a growing federal deficit and an economy struggling to regain traction, policy experts told USA Today in a story published Wednesday.
The White House releases its fiscal 2011 budget in early February.