In less than a week – April 10th – the White House will release its proposed budget for 2014. Even though Congress ultimately approves federal spending, this is a very important document for NASA for the following reasons:
Unlike Congressional budgets, the White House will project spending levels for the next five years. This helps agencies plan development for multi-year programs (like, say, space missions).
NASA works for the Administration, so funding priorities in the President's budget are the official priorities of the Agency. This means that no civil servant can speak against the budget once its been released. Only Congress can modify the numbers.
For non-politicized issues, the President's budget numbers effectively create an anchoring bias against which any changes are measured (i.e. it's very hard to restore the full amount to a division that receives a cut).
A New Start For a Europa Mission? Congress mandated that NASA set aside $75 million in 2013 on "formulation activities" for a mission to Jupiter's moon, Europa. This long-sought-after mission is not in the five-year budget projections, though, so NASA cannot make long-term spending decisions to actually build the thing. If funding is specified within the future budget of the Planetary Sciences Division, we'll know that the Administration has bought into the idea and we'll have a real mission.
How will NASA pay for its Asteroid Retrieval Mission? Last week, someone leaked the news that NASA will use $100 million to start planning a mission to capture an asteroid and move it somewhere in the vicinity of the moon. It's unlikely that NASA's total budget will increase, so the money will have to come from areas within the Agency. Will it come out of the science budget? The Exploration budget? If so, what programs will be cut to enable this program?
What about those spy satellites? Remember when the NRO donated two space-ready telescopes to NASA? Will there be funding to utilize this hardware and make a mission? If so, where does the money come from within the very tight Astrophysics budget?
Will Education funding be safe? NASA recently issued internal memos suspending all major education and public outreach activities. This was due to the Sequester, but, similar to Planetary Science, the White House had requested a cut for the Education division last year, only to see Congress restore it. Will they cut education and public outreach officially?
Shenanigans We're always on the lookout for these. For example: last year, funding for scientific research in Planetary Science appeared to see an overall increase, but it was only because a previously unrelated robotics program had been moved into its purview.
We'll be parsing the details closely as soon as the document becomes public, sometime on Wednesday morning on the 10th.
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NASA / JPL / SSI / color composite by Gordan Ugarkovic
Jupiter and Europa from Cassini
This true-color image of a half-phase Europa poised above Jupiter's great red spot was taken by Cassini as it sailed past on January 2, 2001.