Commerce, Justice, and Science—the House of Representatives’ subcommittee that oversees NASA spending—just released details on how they would fund the space agency in 2017. Overall, the news for the space program is very good: NASA’s topline would rise to $19.5 billion—$200 million more than the Senate’s proposal and $500 million more than the President requested. Should this pass into law, NASA would have its best top-line budget (adjusted for inflation) in six years.
The bill needs to be voted on by the full House, at which point it would need to be reconciled with a similar bill proposed in the Senate, which was released last month.
Notes: Astro is the combined Astrophysics and James Webb Space Telescope budget lines. Requested amounts include the “mandatory” and discretionary spending accounts. All numbers are in millions of dollars.
The total amount of science funding proposed by the House is significantly better than what was proposed by the Senate, matching the President’s request of $5.6 billion. I don’t have the verbal dexterity to accurately describe how good the Planetary Science Division budget would be if this bill passes as-is, so let’s just say that it’s great. Planetary Science would see a $215 million increase from 2016, keeping NASA on track to launch a Europa mission in 2022, select two new Discovery-class missions, Mars 2020 would gain a helicopter (!), and every existing planetary science mission would continue. Scientists would see a much-needed 10% increase to for planetary science research.
The Earth Science Division is the loser here, which would receive a $231 million cut from 2016. But I wouldn’t panic about this—yet. We need to look at this in context of actions taken by the Senate last month.
In their budget, the Senate slashed $270 million from Planetary Science and used that money to increase Earth Science to a record $1.984 billion. I argued last month that this move could be understood as staking out an initial negotiating position before the House released their funding bill. You can read the House’s new budget proposal in the same way—it’s their counteroffer, increasing Planetary Science by roughly the same amount that the Senate cut it, and using Earth Science to support that.
Recent history has fortunately shown that both Earth Science and Planetary Science ultimately get increased budgets (as they should) in the final compromise spending bill, and we will strongly encourage this trend to continue.
The SLS and Orion programs would continue to receive large funding increases, no surprises there. Commercial crew is not mentioned, which is an implicit endorsement of NASA’s request this year of $1.185 billion.
Notes: Requested amounts include the “mandatory” and discretionary spending accounts. All numbers are in millions of dollars. Space operations includes the ISS, commercial crew, and cargo delivery programs. This is the first year that the ARM program had its own budget line as part of the request.
The big news is that the House would ban funds from being spent on the Asteroid Redirect Mission, effectively ending the program (though the work on Solar Electric Propulsion could continue).
There is strong encouragement from the committee for humans to return to the surface of the moon, “NASA is encouraged to develop plans to return to the Moon to test capabilities that will be needed for Mars, including habitation modules, lunar prospecting, and landing and ascent vehicles.” NASA is already planning to return to the lunar area with Orion and deep space habitats, but the strong encouragement for surface operations is a new salvo in the continuing debate about where the human spaceflight program should focus its efforts.
There is a lot more to unpack in this bill, and we will provide further analysis over the next few days. Overall, I’m encouraged by the commitment on both the House and Senate committees to increase NASA’s budget, though obviously there are issues on both sides that need to be worked out.
The next step is for full votes in the House and Senate, though, this being an election year, those votes are unlikely to happen. More likely is that this gets picked up again after the election is safely behind Congress, though that, of course, depends on who wins.