Spaceflight Insider

NASA to focus on studying other planets, not Earth, according to House bill


Photo Credit: Michael Howard / SpaceFlight Insider

The House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday approved the fiscal year 2016 Commerce, Justice, Science (CJS) Appropriations bill on a voice vote. The bill that will shape NASA’s future activities envisions a big boost for planetary science and cuts the agency’s funds for the Commercial Crew program and Earth science. NASA administrator Charles Bolden has criticized the cuts.

“It would upend the investments we need to execute contracts with Boeing and SpaceX to return the launches of American astronauts to American soil and to do it by 2017,” he said in a statement. “The House proposal would seriously reduce our Earth science program and threaten to set back generations worth of progress in better understanding our changing climate, and our ability to prepare for and respond to earthquakes, droughts, and storm events,” Bolden added.

Planetary science receives an increase of $195 million, more than the administration’s request, to $1.557 billion. It would give a huge boost to an uncrewed mission to Jupiter’s moon Europa, and directs it to launch a few years earlier, in 2022. The Mars 2020 Rover mission receives $32 million more than requested. The bill also gives more funding for the Opportunity rover on Mars and the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter.

Meanwhile, the bill provides a $244 million cut to NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. The agency has stated several times that providing anything less than their requested amount would delay the program and require them to renegotiate their contracts with SpaceX and Boeing.

“It would force us to continue our sole reliance on Russia,” Bolden remarked. “In other words, it would guarantee we will continue to send millions of dollars a year to Moscow instead of investing that money in the United States, creating jobs and once again launching Americans from U.S. soil.”

SLS Space Launch System NASA image posted on SpaceFlight Insider

The Space Launch System is well-represented in the bill, but Commercial Crew takes a significant hit. Image Credit: NASA

Shaun Donovan, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) director, has also expressed his worries in a letter to the House Appropriations Committee:

“The subcommittee bill cuts will delay the program and force continued reliance on and payment for Russian capabilities for transporting U.S. astronauts,” Donovan said. “While directing an impractical level of funding toward the Jupiter Europa mission, the bill cuts important NASA science programs by more than $200 million compared to the president’s budget, jeopardizing Earth science missions that are helping us understand how our climate is changing and respond to earthquakes, droughts, and severe weather events.”

Indeed, Earth science gets a significant cut — $90 million less than what it received in 2015, and $269 million below what President Obama requested. It eliminates the Thermal-Infrared Free-Flyer — an imaging spacecraft that NASA hopes to launch in 2019, when Landsat 7 satellite will run out of fuel. It doesn’t specify where the other cuts would come from, but this would likely impact the transfer of several NOAA instruments to NASA and delay some future missions in development.

NASA Fiscal Year Budget image credit NASA posted on SpaceFlight Insider

Image Credit: NASA

The Space Launch System will get the largest increase. The president requested $1.356 billion for 2016, and the House bill would provide $1.850 billion — nearly $500 million more. Funding for the Orion spacecraft is the same as in Obama’s request.

The House bill fully funds the James Webb Space Telescope at the requested amount of $620 million, and increases the request for NASA’s astrophysics division by more than $25 million to $735.6 million. $36 million will be applied to develop direct exoplanet detection capabilities on the Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST ).

There’s also a boost in funding for production of plutonium-238, necessary to fuel deep-space missions to the outer solar system. Technology funding gets an increase of $30 million.

Overall, NASA does extremely well in this bill. It gets $18.5 billion. This is $519 million above last year and exactly what the president requested for 2016.

The Senate still has to pass its own version of the bill.



Tomasz Nowakowski is the owner of Astro Watch, one of the premier astronomy and science-related blogs on the internet. Nowakowski reached out to SpaceFlight Insider in an effort to have the two space-related websites collaborate. Nowakowski's generous offer was gratefully received with the two organizations now working to better relay important developments as they pertain to space exploration.

Reader Comments

It really makes it difficult to plan and manage anything that runs longer than a year from start to finish to have Congress keep moving the budgets and the goal posts, doesn’t it? NASA, CCP, EELV…

Could this mean a separate starshade for WFIRST? $36 million per year until launch 2024 might almost be enough. Plutonium and Europa are the right decisions too. And Earth science has become a great disappointment for the global warming community. The extent of polar ices is 5% above the average during the last 35 years. Global temperature hasn’t increased since 1998. Doomsday is canceled:

Having made a career of working as a professional scientists in the field of earth sciences for three decades, I think it is time to tell Congress that EARTH IS A PLANET! And this is not an issue of Congress simply making NASA stick to its alleged core mission of space and leave Earth sciences to other agencies. If that were true, NASA’s Earth science budget cuts would be transferred to other agencies such as NOAA. They are not, in fact key areas of NOAA’s budget dealing with climate and hurricane forecasting is getting cut as well.

If so, then maybe the government should start an anti-space agency which studies Earth instead of space? Which looks down instead of up. Just syphoning away all space science resources to just help greedy farmers profit more from their bad expensive food-like fat stuff. If the greedy farmers want to do that, they could finance their own LEO satellites. NASA should not sacrifice tax money on increasing the profits for whatever earthbound special interest that refuses to pay for its own LEO resource satellites. NASA should exclusively aim higher than LEO.

If Earth science is profitable, then that proves that NASA definitely should NOT have any kind of contact with such a thing. Because then others would do it themselves in order to get themselves richer. NASA should focus on the other stuff, the hard stuff.

There is only a narrow sector of Earth sciences that is profitable and there commercial companies making a profit from it. There is no profit to be made monitoring the weather, climate, the oceans, and many other areas of at the cutting edge of research in Earth sciences that NASA has been involved in over the last half of a century. Non-space agencies like NOAA and USGS, for example, are simply not in a position to support these sorts of missions because of a lack of expertise and the needless expense of duplicating space-related capabilities.

If Earth observation isn’t profitable, then why should it be done? I do think there’s alot of money made from weather and other Earth observing satellites. The profiteers just want to profit more by politically forcing NASA to cut down on real space programs in order to finance their profits instead.

I’m really happy that there now is a political force which counteracts this corruption. 99.5% of the Federal budget could be used for looking down. NASA should instead look up.

(Btw, satellites have shown that the global temperature hasn’t increased since 1998, and that current polar ices are 5% over the average since they were first measured 35 years ago. The climate doomsday fraud profits tens of billions of tax dollars every year, so there is real money in this. Although the climate doomsdayers don’t benefit from satellites actually showing that there are no signs at all of any doomsday, that all of their fantasy predictions and models have been proven utterly wrong and irrelevant. THat might be the real background reason for the cut back of doomsday downwards looking satellites in LEO. The doomsdayers don’t want data, they only require blind belief in the eternal doomsday warning, and that the only solution to that is that you should be forced to give away most of your money to your overlord).

Glad to Meet You

“…satellites have shown that the global temperature hasn’t increased since 1998, and that current polar ices are 5% over the average since they were first measured 35 years ago…all of their fantasy predictions and models have been proven utterly wrong and irrelevant.”

Pretty bold statements without any references. Citation, please.

“The doomsdayers don’t want data…”

Your overall line of commenting implies that you’re in favor of reducing Earth science because the ‘doomsdayers’ are using it to ‘finance their profits’ by promoting the Great Global Warming Hoax (Registered Trademark). So, it sounds to me like YOU are the one who doesn’t want data. What are you afraid of – that the tons of data supporting human-caused climate change will be confirmed by further Earth science data gathering?

The Lunatics are definitely in charge of funding the Asylum…

EARTH IS A NOT A PLANET! She is our Goddess.
Outgoing UN IPCC Chief Pachauri reveals global warming ‘is my religion and my dharma’

I’m speechless. How can moving away from relying on Russia to provide our manned launch services not be one of our #1 priorities??? I just don’t get it.

It’s quite amusing these politicians are inflexible to both the possibility of human-induced Earth changes and trashing Russia. Yet they wish to defund commercial U.S. crewed spaceflight thereby ensuring a continuation of single-string reliance upon Soyuz. Soyuz is a great system but without a backup in place as soon as possible this is akin to the Russian roulette Feynman spoke of during the Presidential Commission investigating Challenger.

Jamie godman

Congress has been trying to delay commercial crew for years now so their SLS (aka STS reconstituted) can get their constituents that worked on STS for the last 40 their same old jobs back. This is why they increased SLS funding $500 million but again decreased commercial crew. NASA wanted commercial crew before SLS. General Bolden has done a great job working with SpaceX which has increased NASA’s capacity while also lowering its expenditure. SpaceX charges half of what orbital does for cargo and half of What Boeing needs for commercial crew. If congress does not fully fund CCtCAP I say NASA should put CST-100 on hold and give SpaceX all of the available funding to complete crew dragon. That way we can have at least 1 American provider launching Americans from American on fully designed and built American launch vehicle. Which pays Americans and not Russians. If your tired of seeing NASA forced to pay Russia to launch our astronauts on old antiquated Soyuz, which many of Russia’s rockets have failed lately, then get involved and let’s get congress to pull their heads out and stop wasting our tax dollars!

Another example of important funding decisions being made with the old, “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” considerations, instead of considering what is actually the best way to go for America’s space and other science programs. What other explanation is there for these idiotic decisions? I am sick and tired of these kinds of dealings in Congress, the Senate and especially in the White House!!! Most of this current administration is corrupt, starting with the lead traitor – Obama!


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