What’s Going To Happen With the NASA Budget?

by Elizabeth Howell on July 18, 2013



As NASA’s fiscal 2014 budget proceeds through Congress, it’s still quite the ping-pong ball match to try to figure out where their budget numbers will fall. How do you think the budget will end up? Leave your thoughts in the comments.

Also, be sure to watch the latest markup on the NASA bill occurring today when the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology meets — the webcast is here. It starts at 11:15 a.m. EDT/3:15 p.m. GMT.

Obama administration initial request – $17.7 billion: Unveiled in early April, the $17.7 billion “tough choices” NASA budget was for $50 million less than requested in 2013; the actual FY 2013 budget was $16.6 billion due to cuts and sequestration. While reducing funding opportunities for planetary science, the FY 2014 budget provided funding for a NASA mission to capture an asteroid. The asteroid mission proposal, in later weeks, did not impress at least one subcommittee.

House Appropriations Committee – $16.6 billion. Last week, the committee’s proposal chopped off $1.1 billion from the initial request. The committee passed the Commerce, Justice, and Science appropriations bill with few changes this Wednesday. The $3.6 billion allotted for exploration is $202 million below FY 2013, which critics say will push back NASA’s ability to fund its commercial crew program to bring astronauts into space from American soil. The proposal, however, shields the Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle and Space Launch System from schedule changes due to budgetary levels. NASA science programs in this budget were at $4.8 billion, $266 million below FY 2013. “This includes funding above the President’s request for planetary science to ensure the continuation of critical research and development programs,” the appropriations committee stated. This document contains a detailed breakdown of its budget for NASA.

Artist's conception of NASA's Space Launch System. Credit: NASA

It appears that NASA’s proposed Space Launch System is getting budgetary support from at least some House members. Credit: NASA

– U.S. Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies – $18 billion: On Tuesday, the Senate subcommittee suggested an allocation to NASA of $18 billion. A press release says the budget level will give “better balance for all of NASA’s important missions, including $373 million more for science that helps us to better understand Earth and own solar system while peering at new worlds way beyond the stars. The Senate also provides $597 million more to let humans explore beyond low earth orbit while safely sending our astronauts to the space station on U.S. made vehicles.”

NASA’s reaction: David Weaver, NASA’s associate administrator for communications, said the agency is “deeply concerned” about the House funding levels. “While we appreciate the support of the Committee, we are deeply concerned that the bill under consideration would set our funding level significantly below the President’s request,” he wrote in a blog post, adding, “We are especially concerned the bill cuts funding for space technology – the “seed corn” that allows the nation to conduct ever more capable and affordable space missions – and the innovative and cost-effective commercial crew program, which will break our sole dependence on foreign partners to get to the Space Station. The bill will jeopardize the success of the commercial crew program and ensure that we continue to outsource jobs to Russia.”

Reaction of Commercial Spaceflight Federation: Much the same as NASA. “Less funding for the commercial

Dragon in orbit during the CRS-2 mission. Credit: NASA/CSA/Chris Hadfield

NASA fears there will not be enough money to fund commercial providers such as SpaceX  (Dragon cargo spacecraft pictured) who aim to bring astronauts to the space station themselves. Credit: NASA/CSA/Chris Hadfield

crew program simply equates to prolonged dependence on foreign launch providers,” stated federation president Michael Lopez-Alegria, who is a former NASA astronaut. “As a nation, we should be doing our utmost to regain the capability of putting astronauts in orbit on American vehicles as soon as possible.”

What’s next: The House Committee on Science, Space and Technology markup of the NASA bill takes place starting at 11:15 a.m. EDT/3:15 p.m. GMT (again, watch the webcast at this link.) We’ll keep you posted on what they say. The Planetary Society’s Casey Dreier, who said $16.6 billion is the smallest NASA budget in terms of purchasing power since 1986, points out that the House doesn’t have the final say: “The Senate still needs to weigh in, so this House budget is not the last word in the matter, but it’s deeply troubling. You can’t turn NASA on and off like a spigot. Cuts now will echo through the coming decades.”


Elizabeth Howell is the senior writer at Universe Today. She also works for Space.com, Space Exploration Network, the NASA Lunar Science Institute, NASA Astrobiology Magazine and LiveScience, among others. Career highlights include watching three shuttle launches, and going on a two-week simulated Mars expedition in rural Utah. You can follow her on Twitter @howellspace or contact her at her website.

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