NASA Budget Boon in Late-Night Appropriation Bill
Late Saturday night the Senate passed the so-called Cromnibus bill funding the United States government through the end of the Fiscal Year, avoiding a second government shutdown in as many years. The bill, part continuing resolution, part omnibus budget act, allocated funding for NASA greater than the agency had requested and signals a resounding rebound for science funding across the government.
Despite procedural efforts among members of the Tea Party caucus to forestall action on the bill, Saturday’s vote largely superseded partisan divides (see the roll call). In uniting around a fully funded government, both parties also made significant strides in science funding.
Forbes reports that medical research received extra funds allocated over the previous year, as did the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). One of the most unexpected increases was delivered to NASA.
An article published in the journal Space Policy in 2003 noted that Americans routinely overestimate the amount of money the federal government spends on NASA’s budget. In the late 1990s, for example, Americans guessed the government spent a monumental twenty percent of the overall budget on space (it received just under one percent at the time, and it now closer to one half of one percent). NASA’s budget has been relatively flat, in real terms, since the beginning of the decade.
Thus, when NASA requested $17.46 billion in its FY15 budget request, it made headlines when the Senate voted to increase that funding by half-a-billion dollars.
The new top-line budget of $18.01 billion is $549 million more than the White House budget request and more than $300 million more than NASA’s FY14 top-line budget. Here are some of the biggest winners:
• Orion will be funded at $1.194 billion, roughly $150 million more than NASA requested.
• The Space Launch System, the rocket upon which Orion will be launched in coming years, received an additional $320 million over the White House’s budget submission for a total of $1.7 billion for the rocket and an additional $350 million for ground systems.
• Planetary sciences received a startling bump of $100 million specifically to begin developing a probe to land on Jupiter’s Europa moon. Europa’s hypothesized vast subterranean oceans have long caught the eye of astro-biologists as a favorable location for the development of life.
• An infrared telescope housed inside a Boeing 747, named SOFIA, was allocated a substantial $70 million to rescue it from a proposed grounding.
• The National Space Grant College and Fellowship Project and the Experimental Project to Stimulate Competitive Research were both fully funded to a combined total of $58 million.
Not every line item and division caught the NASA windfall. The Commercial Crew Program (CCP), an effort to restore American access to low-Earth orbit (LEO) via private contracts received $43 million dollars less than the White House request of $848 million. Spaceflight Now notes in its assessment of the 2015 budget that NASA has never received full funding for the CCP, but this most recent appropriation is the closest the agency has come thus far.
Despite the small shortfalls in some departments, the funding increases (especially for planetary sciences) are noteworthy because they did not result in proportional decreases in other divisions or science agencies.
For a full-text of the budget (the House version ), see the science appropriation section beginning on page 173.
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Since 2011 Joshua Tallis has served as the manager for research and analysis at an intelligence and security services provider in Washington, DC. Josh has co-authored several articles in the Journal of Counterterrorism and Homeland Security International with colleagues from the defense community. Previous work experience includes internships at the U.S. Congress and the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Josh is also a PhD student in International Relations at the University of St Andrews' Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence. He is a Summa Cum Laude, Phi Beta Kappa and Special Honors graduate of The George Washington University where he received a BA in Middle East Studies from the Elliott School of International Affairs.