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Human Spaceflight, Planetary Missions Face Potential Cuts in Latest NASA Budget Negotiations


While 2014 budget negotiations are not finalized yet, there’s already some noise of concern in different space communities that depend on NASA. Here’s a brief roundup of some of the news lately:

Could the Cassini Saturn mission get the axe? Wired’s Adam Mann warns that NASA may not be able to fund all of its planetary science missions in the coming year. Based on a statement that Jim Green, NASA’s planetary science director, made to an agency advisory council earlier this month, Mann narrows in on the Curiosity and Cassini missions as the big flagship missions that are requiring the most in terms of resources. Cassini is functioning perfectly and providing reams of data from Saturn and its moons, causing concern from planetary scientists about losing it early.

Only one commercial crew partner? NASA issued a cautious news release this week saying it is prepared to launch Americans from their own soil in 2017, “subject to the availability of adequate funding.” The agency is now moving into a new phase of its commercial crew program called Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap), saying it is prepared to “award one or more CCtCap contracts no later than September 2014.” That means that the three companies currently funded — Boeing Co., Sierra Nevada Corp. and SpaceX — may face stiff competition for more money.

New report suggesting stopping NASA’s human spaceflight program: Before reading any further, do not jump to conclusions — making recommendations like this is a common practice by the Congressional Budget Office, which looks at all possibilities as it presents options for spending. Still, Space Politics’ Jeff Foust presents the report and generates some interesting comments after his story about the value of human spaceflight. For context, NASA and its international agency partners will need to make a decision fairly soon about continuing space station operations past 2020, so it’s possible the human spaceflight program could change.

What do you think of these proposals? Let us know in the comments.


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.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • ???????? ???????????? November 20, 2013, 12:21 PM

    Elizabeth, the problem isn’t that the particular CBO proposal was just
    one of the options presented. The problem is, that it WAS proposed in
    the first place! It just reveals a Congress that sees human spaceflight,
    and spaceflight in general as something expendable when the number
    don’t add up.
    Didn’t Neil deGrasse Tyson say something about regressing,
    going back to the caves? When he’d said that, I thought he was just
    overreacting. After reading about the CBO report, I think not. And since
    everyone is arguing about the merits of private vs. government
    spaceflight, if government human spaceflight were to go at this point,
    the private one would go as well, alongside Commercial Crew. I wonder how Bigelow would launch his orbital hotels then..

    • Deepsky_hunter November 20, 2013, 2:01 PM

      I concur with your assessment of Congress.

  • Dewdle November 20, 2013, 1:48 PM

    Had it not been for the Catholic Church and their dogma, man would have landed on the Moon about 400 years ago. Fast forward to today , were it not for the Tea Party and the dullminded Republican Party , the US might still have a robust space program come 2016…

    This is all beyond stupid.

    • delphinus100 November 20, 2013, 7:38 PM

      Sorry, but aside from the fact that you can’t know how events would have played out ‘instead,’ the Earth-centered Universe dogma (which makes sense to human senses alone) goes back to Aristotle and Ptolemy. Later beliefs didn’t pull it out of thin air.

      Philolaus and Aristarchus thought otherwise on the matter, but what can you do?

      And ‘the ‘space program’ (whatever that phrase really means) has been drifting to some degree, ever since the end of Apollo, back when ‘tea party’ was yet another unchangeable historical event, and did not carry the baggage the phrase does today. It’s about if and how much much public money to spend on this, and exactly how, in support of what policy. The names and faces today don’t alter that basic facts.

      I’m one of those who once expected human Mars missions in the 1980s, and expected our capabilities to at least resemble those of the movie ‘2001’ by now. I’m disappointed too, but I also understand *why* that didn’t happen, what can still be done to get there, and that the fault doesn’t lie at the feet of a new political party, or an old church…

  • philw1776 November 20, 2013, 4:05 PM

    We’ve transitioned from a country that put human footprints on the moon to a nation whose major governmental endeavor cannot build a website. Sad.

    • TheBride December 3, 2013, 9:11 PM

      That is so sad and so true.

  • Guest November 20, 2013, 4:43 PM

    Now if only the Gov’t had gone after the whole $23 billion dollars Bear Stern/J.P. Morgan had ‘set aside’ to pay legal penalties steaming from their illegal manipulation of the real estate market? Instead the penalty/fine levied is closer to $13 billion. This represents a MINOR fraction of the TRILLIONS of dollars in Bear Stern’s coffers. It has not been revealed how much of those holdings were ‘earned’ by fraudulent practices… begs the question… How many other investment firms have illegally absconded billions of dollars and not paid taxes on their profits? i.e. What could NASA do with some of that money?

    • philw1776 November 20, 2013, 7:41 PM

      Bear Sterns, however despicable, does not have trillions in their coffers. Also, investment firms do pay hefty taxes, albeit most often at capital gains rates. Science folks need to be numerate and objective.

      Also, it’s time space/science advocates realized that a dollar saved will NOT be spent on space/science. There are too many advocacy groups that represent re-election votes for transfer payments way further up the political food chain. Wishing it were not so is hoping for flowers & unicorns.

  • Aqua4U November 20, 2013, 4:50 PM

    Now if only we could get Wall Street investment firms and banks to ‘pony up’ some tax money for the trillions of dollars they absconded with… Bear Sterns/JP Morgan’s recent fine of $13 billion is only one example. I note that the ‘deal’ made makes only a fraction of that fine taxable… but would pay for how many ISS resupply missions? or commercial space travel investments?

  • Robert Gishubl November 20, 2013, 10:44 PM

    Simple solution, axe SLS and properly fund the rest of NASA, especially comercial crew and making rockets re-usable. Properly funding commercial crew will reduce the cost of ISS support and will reduce overall cost as Comercial Crew costs are less than that being spent on Russian flights. Making rockets re-usable will reduce the cost of access to space making all space missions cheaper.
    A win for everyone except some members of congress will miss out on campaign contributions so it probably will not happen.

  • TerryG November 20, 2013, 10:55 PM

    The SLS is soaking up too much of NASA’s budget in a similar that many astronomy projects have been thrown under the bus to keep the James Webb Space Telescope project alive.

    The big fear for Human Space Flight (HSF) fans is that the ISS might have to be splashed shortly after 2020 to keep up the flow of $$$ to the SLS program and even then, it might not be enough to bring the SLS into regular, frequent use in the face of declining budgets.

    If NASA’s congressional masters wished vacate long term HSF once and for all, then they need only stick to the current path.

  • Sajith Sandaruwan November 20, 2013, 11:24 PM

    Simple solution, axe SLS and properly fund the rest of NASA, especially
    comercial crew and making rockets re-usable. Properly funding
    commercial crew will reduce the cost of ISS support and will reduce
    overall cost as Comercial Crew costs are less than that being spent on
    Russian flights. Making rockets re-usable will reduce the cost of
    access to space making all space missions cheaper.
    A win for everyone except some members of congress will miss out on campaign contributions so it probably will not happen.

    • TheBrett November 22, 2013, 4:29 AM

      That wouldn’t sell well in Florida, and Florida is a swing state.

  • earsz70 November 21, 2013, 9:40 PM

    While holding no grudge against Russia, I think it’s a shame how much the US must depend on Russia to keep the ISS going. I concur with the comment that if NASA funding goes, the private business funding will vanish or at least drop off. I also concur with the comment that I had expected much more of our space program by now. I do find our efforts too costly _ even given varied cost reductions, surely we can don better than we have done so far. When I was a young sci-fi fan, wha I liked best wasn’t so much the “adventure” as the extrapolation of ideas and practices to see what possible consequences they might have. Humankind needs space-oriented endeavors. To do otherwise would be like living on an island under an opaque dome while the rest of everything goes on without us. Space doesn’t need us, but we need space.

  • TheBrett November 22, 2013, 4:26 AM

    The US manned program hasn’t gone beyond LEO in 41 years, despite several programs over the years designed to do so that inevitably got delayed and cancelled. I don’t see it taking us to an asteroid, Mars, or even the Moon anytime within the next 20 years, if ever. So I’d be okay with its cancellation, if it meant another $2-3 billion/year for robotic exploration missions and space telescopes.

    Which it wouldn’t, of course. More likely is that ending manned spaceflight programs in NASA would start the death spiral of NASA as its budget drastically shrinks and its political weight in the budget-making process diminishes. If you want to see how bad that can get, look at how hard it is to get any funding for particle physics or deep sea exploration from the federal government. “Pure science” doesn’t get you a lot of ground in the US.

  • TheBride December 3, 2013, 9:14 PM

    I’ve been meeting a lot with people at NASA and for the most part I’m disappointed in the quality of their staff. Not all, but too many are disappointing. They seem like people with no vision for the future and much less engineering smarts than you would expect. It’s a good thing they have contractors because the govvies are not impressive.