Debate to begin on smallest NASA budget since 2006

NASA Meatball

On May 8 the U.S. House of Representatives will begin debate on a 2013 appropriations bill that could cut NASA’s budget by more than $200 million, gives NASA some NOAA funds and tasking. changes NASA’s focus from a MARS probe to a Europa Orbiter, and change commercial vehicle procurement plans.

If approved this would reduce NASA’s budget to $17.57 billion, the smallest since 2006. The senate voted on April 19th to raise NASA’s budget to $19.4 billion. They also made NASA responsible for funding the civilian weather satellites it builds on behalf of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. This is a real blow to NOAA but could save $117 million in removing duplication in the agencies. Not counting the former NOAA funds of $1.6 billion in weather satellite money NASA’s budget would be reduced by total of $41.5 million.

The House bill also directs NASA to narrow the competitors sooner and speed the transition to traditional government contracts from the flexible Space Act Agreements that NASA had been using since it started the Commercial Crew Program in 2010. This would save monies that could be used in other missions such as planetary science. The report states “The Committee believes that many of these concerns would be addressed by an immediate down select to a single competitor or, at most, the execution of a leader-follower paradigm in which NASA makes one large award to a main commercial partner and a second small award to a back-up partner,” .

The House included 7 percent cut in planetary science to $1.4 billion for planetary science also directing NASA to put an additional $115 million into the Discovery and New Frontiers programs of competitively selected missions.

The House bill adds money for Mars Next Decade. The House made clear they do not want NASA to launch a Mars mission in 2018 just for the sake of launching a Mars mission. If they cannot complete a Mars sample return mission then the money is to be used for a Europa Orbiter.

The James Webb Space Telescope would get $628 million in 2013, the same as the request. Another expensive program the Space Launch System will get 1.99 billion. When all is said and done in 2031 the SLS will have cost 41 Billion.