House Appropriations Committee raises NASA budget
On Thursday, May 8th, 2014, the House Appropriations Committee voted to give NASA $19.9 billion for FY 2015. This was about $439 million more than the White House had asked for. The Committee criticized President Obama for consistently asking for less money than what was needed to meet the space agency’s goals. A refrain which has been consistently leveled at the prior administration. Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski said, “I was deeply troubled to receive the President’s budget…I was deeply troubled in the area of NASA because there was a reduction of $186 million from fiscal 2014.”
For his part, NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden defended President Obama’s budget request, saying the funding would increase in future years as projects such as Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST) ramp up.
In reply, Mikulski said, “I don’t want to talk about future missions, I want to talk about now. I want to talk about earth science, physics, planetary science.”
Representative Robert Aderholt, vice chairman of the subcommittee that funds NASA, said, “NASA is important to the country’s future,” Aderholt said. “Continued funding for SLS is key to maintaining the United States role as the world’s leader in space.”
Under the new appropriations bill, NASA must report back within thirty days on whether the second SLS flight could be a manned mission to Mars. The committee authorized NASA to consider a manned fly-by of Mars in 2021. SLS is receiving $1.6 billion, $1.14 billion for the Orion Multipurpose Crew Vehicle and $315 million for ground operations at Kennedy Space Center. Commercial Crew received $785 million, $1.45 billion for planetary science, and $100 million to plan the Europa Clipper mission, an unmanned mission to Jupiter’s moon Europa.
Representative Adam Schiff said the Europa mission was a top priority. “We now have a very substantial investment in that mission, something that JPL is intimately involved in.”
The committee was less favorable to the proposed Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM), writing:
“The Congress still has outstanding questions and concerns about the ARM’s costs and feasibility, as well as its strategic relevance and potential to generate external support from the public and international collaborators. Because it remains unclear whether or when the Congress will make a long-term commitment to the ARM concept, the Committee believes that funding associated with the mission must be carefully constrained to prevent the occurrence of waste in the event that the ARM never receives final approval.”
“It’s nice to know that planetary science is back. This is really great news for JPL, but more broadly, great news for those who want America to maintain its preeminence in planetary science,” Schiff said.
NASA had proposed grounding the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA), a modified 747 equipped with a 100-inch refracting telescope. The Committee shot down the plan to retire SOFIA, saying that it provides “good science,” and that:
“NASA shall continue seeking third-party partners whose additional funding support would restore SOFIA’s budget to its full operational level.” The budget will now go to the full House for approval. Meanwhile the Senate is working on its own budget. The two appropriations plans will be reconciled in the fall.
Bolden has repeatedly stated that Congress should support President Obama’s initiatives and that it should adequately fund NASA to allow the agency to accomplish the tasks that it has been directed upon. Recent comments from the administrator detailed the “choices” he had to make. It is therefore unclear why he would note his disapproval of receiving more funding than requested.
Collin R. Skocik has been captivated by space flight since the maiden flight of space shuttle Columbia in April of 1981. He frequently attends events hosted by the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation, and has met many astronauts in his experiences at Kennedy Space Center. He is a prolific author of science fiction as well as science and space-related articles. In addition to the Voyage Into the Unknown series, he has also written the short story collection The Future Lives!, the science fiction novel Dreams of the Stars, and the disaster novel The Sunburst Fire. His first print sale was Asteroid Eternia in Encounters magazine. When he is not writing, he provides closed-captioning for the hearing impaired. He lives in Atlantic Beach, Florida.