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The NASA Budget: What Next

We're just getting started

Posted by Casey Dreier

26-03-2014 17:27 CDT

Topics: FY2015 NASA Budget, Explaining Policy, Space Policy, mission status

Note: if you haven't written Congress about the NASA budget, stop reading this and click this link. We'll take you to an easy form that will allow do so very quickly. Then come back and finish this article. --cjd

And so it begins.

The President's budget request for NASA was released about two weeks ago. This kicks off advocacy season for the next (fiscal) year at NASA. The Planetary Society weighed in last week with this official response to the White House's request which cut $65 million from Planetary Science, cut every other science division except for Heliophysics, and mothballed the SOFIA telescope. Here's a short excerpt:

The Planetary Society cannot fully support the FY2015 NASA Budget Request. While there are some positive aspects—particularly the newfound openness to exploring Europa and the continued science operations of most high-priority planetary missions—the request imposes unacceptable cuts to the Science Mission Directorate that damage the immediate and long-term health of some of NASA's most successful programs, particularly planetary exploration. If this budget is passed unchanged, there will be fewer planetary missions in development by 2019 than at any point in the past few decades.

The Obama White House is bequeathing a deeply troubled future of planetary exploration to its successors. Its FY2015 budget does not preserve a healthy program. As the current slate of missions reach the end of their lives, there are few ready to take their place exploring the solar system. We urge Congress to once again reject these cuts to NASA's Planetary Science Division, as well as to NASA's top-line and to the Science Mission Directorate. We urge Congress to, at the very minimum, preserve NASA's funding at FY14 levels and to restore planetary science to its historical average of $1.5 billion per year.

Be sure to read the full statement.

So the budget's been proposed. Now what happens? Here's a rough breakdown of what the Planetary Society has done and is planning to do. Note that future actions could change depending on external events and that this is not an exhaustive list. We will be doing far more than this.

But to start:

March

The Planetary Society's actions:

  • Submitted formal appropriations requests for a Planetary Science program at $1.5 billion for FY2015.
  • Submitted an official statement for the record [pdf] regarding the state of planetary science funding for the House Space Subcommittee's first hearing on the NASA budget (we will submit similar statements to the appropriations committees and the Senate space subcommittee as well).
  • Organized our response with the leadership of the major professional scientific organizations, including the American Geophysical Union, the AAS's Division for Planetary Science, and the Geological Society of America.
  • Updated our "Be a Space Advocate" page with the latest budget numbers and analysis.
  • Sent out a physical mail petition for a Europa mission and planetary science to tens of thousands of our members.
  • Made an online call-to-action for our members and supporters to write Congress and (for our international members) the President. As I write this, we have sent over 18,000 messages to Congress in the past two days.

Congress:

  • The House of Representatives's Space Subcommittee holds a hearing on the NASA Budget request on Thursday, March 27th. This is an authorizing committee (i.e. they don't create spending bills), but they do set general NASA policy through their multi-year NASA Authorization bills. They will try to pass a new NASA Authorization bill this year.

April

The Planetary Society:

  • I will fly out to D.C. in April to meet with key congressional representatives about NASA science issues.
  • The Planetary Society board will meet to discuss big-picture space policy topics.
  • We double the amount of time of the Society's D.C. Consultant. He'll be able to spend more time working for Planetary Science and NASA issues in the Senate and the White House, in addition to previously strong work in the House. We are able to do this thanks to the outstanding monetary support from members of The Planetary Society for our advocacy program.

Congress:

  • It's likely that the Commerce, Justice, and Science appropriations subcommittee will hold a hearing on the NASA budget sometime in April, though that could slip into May. This is the subcommittee that actually creates the spending bills for NASA every year.
  • The Senate may also hold their equivalent appropriations hearing in April.

May

  • The Planetary Society will hold a special luncheon event in the Capitol building on May 7th to celebrate achievements and educate congressional staff and the public about NASA's Planetary Science program. Confirmed guests include Bill Nye, David Grinspoon, and Emily Lakdawalla. We will have more information about this soon.
  • Bill Nye and I will visit with key congressional staff and members of Congress in May.

Congress:

  • If either the House or Senate appropriations committees haven't met by now, they likely will in the month of May.
  • We may see the initial drafts of the actual spending bills by the end of May in both the Senate and House.

Obviously, there will be lots more to come. Final votes on these spending bills will, ideally, occur before the fiscal year ends on October 1st. Unlike the previous few years, Congress has already agreed to top-line spending levels, plus it's an election year, so there should be a minimum of budget drama. We'll see.

The Society is working on additional educational materials, budget analysis, and ways you can take action. For now, make sure to write Congress if you haven't done so already. And if you've already written, take the next step and call your representative's offices. It's easier than you think.

There's a lot of work to do, but we are focused and ready to go. It's time to stand for space.

 
See other posts from March 2014

 

Or read more blog entries about: FY2015 NASA Budget, Explaining Policy, Space Policy, mission status

Comments:

TimR: 03/27/2014 02:55 CDT

The above statements and actions represent a great effort by PS in support of the Planetary Science Division. This is the Society's special interest. However, the Planetary Division is part of a bigger picture - SMD, the roles of SMD and HEOMD, and the whole NASA budget. There is a need to engage the bigger issue of funding allocations in HEOMD. SLS & Orion are the 800 pound gorillas in the NASA budget. JWST has impacted the allocation of funds but its impact is singular and limited in comparison to SLS and Orion. House representatives are calling for support for SLS/Orion and effectively as cornerstones to HEOMD. Unfortunately, the delays and their designs have collided with imminent developments in commercial spaceflight. So, we face a conundrum. Cancellation means another non-starter; Constellation being the first. It crushes development efforts not unlike the funding shortfalls in Planetary Division does. But completion of SLS and Orion will result in annual costs to NASA that will impact the SMD and Planetary Division funding. Not only this, but one doesn't need a crystal ball to see that SLS/Orion will be grossly over-priced in comparison to commercial options. It will be a shameful cost to the American taxpayer. There was no alternative to Shuttle. This time, there will be. So, Planetary Society and other groups need to come to terms. Do we stand idol and let nature take its course, allow SLS and Orion to be built, waste billions and then canceled when the obvious stands in plain sight? Is that the best we can do (as a society)? Or is there something we can do to contain the cost, adapt the objectives, revise the design rather than face the inevitable? Planetary Society needs to defend the Planetary Division first but the problems facing HEOMD are near-term threats to the Division's future. "April * The Planetary Society board will meet to discuss big-picture space policy topics." Before the board meets, members should offer their viewpoints.

John: 03/27/2014 11:35 CDT

https://petitions.whitehouse.gov/petition/increase-budget-nasas-planetary-science-program/B7cPrBw5

Casey Dreier: 03/27/2014 12:24 CDT

John: I appreciate the effort, but please consider using our advocacy forms here: http://support.planetary.org/site/Advocacy?pagename=homepage&page=UserAction&id=173 At this point in the budget cycle, only Congress can do anything about the proposed funding levels. We need to focus our efforts there and stay coordinated on message. Our form will also forward all messages to the White House, so they will see it as well. We also go to NASA and show them the list of all people who have written in support of Planetary Exploration.

Casey Dreier: 03/27/2014 12:26 CDT

TimR: We are on the same page. Understanding and managing those two large programs will be crucial to maintaining a healthy NASA in the future, and our Board is already starting to discuss these topics. I will consider your idea of opening up a formal call for member opinion (though we always welcome and value it via emails or phone calls to the office).

TimR: 03/28/2014 02:33 CDT

It is important to recognize that many people are cynical of "writing their congressman" or calling them. Yet, there is a need to engage the public and a need to state our positions to our public servants in a multitude of formats, multiple angles to make our voices heard. I am supportive of the idea of a White House petition but it needs to be coordinated here and with other groups. The White House is not out of the loop. Yes, Congress stands to modify the proposed Federal (NASA) budget but the White House does not stand idol, there is give and take (behind closed doors and otherwise). So a petition to the White House - engaging them is still a factor. A petition could raise awareness in general. During these budget negotiations, we need to make sure that the White House, NASA administration or congressional leaders do not throw Planetary Science under the bus, that is, leave funding levels as is or worse in order to fund other segments of the NASA budget.

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