Casey DreierMar 04, 2013

Proposed House Budget Increases NASA Funding for SLS and Commercial Crew, Leaves Science Untouched

Update 2013-03-06: The House of Representatives voted to pass the bill, 267 - 151.

The U.S. House of Representatives unveiled their proposed funding bill for the remainder of the 2013 fiscal year, which provides NASA funding at 2012 levels with the exception of its Exploration division.

The bill is a modification of the current Continuing Resolution (CR), which has been in place since October 1st of 2012, and currently funds the federal government at 2012 levels. This resolution expires on March 27th, 2013. If the U.S. Congress does not pass an additional funding bill, the government will shut down on March 28th.


This bill comes from the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. The Senate, controlled by Democrats, will most likely create its own funding bill for the remainder of 2013, possibly an "omnibus" – a bill that contains all of the appropriations bills from individual committees packed into one piece of legislation. These appropriations would more directly reflect funding proposals from President Obama's 2013 budget, which has yet to be passed. The Senate and the House need to reach agreement on a funding bill in order to avoid this government shutdown.

The House's bill is a not a "clean" continuing resolution. It makes many changes to defense spending that we will not discuss here, but it does also make some interesting changes to NASA's budget.

NASA's Science Mission Directorate, the section responsible for all robotic planetary exploration, is untouched and would remain at 2012 levels. This is bad for Planetary Science, since it will effectively endure the President's 2013 proposal for a 21% cut. The House had previously restored some of this money in its appropriations bill, but those restorations are not reflected here.

However, NASA's Exploration Directorate, which is responsible for the Space Launch System (SLS) heavy-lift rocket, the Orion crew capsule, and the Commercial Crew program, are granted exceptions and receive increased funding levels at the expense of Space Operations and Facilities management:

Program2012 Budget2013 Proposed House BudgetChange
SLS$1,860,000,000$2,119,000,000+$259m, +14%
Exploration R&D$304,800,000$308,000,000+$3.2m, +1%
Commercial Crew$406,000,000$525,000,000+$119m, +29%
Space Operations$4,233,600,000$4,000,000,000-$233.6m, -5%
Cross-Agency Support$2,995,000,000$2,847,400,000-$147.6m, -5%

The bill also increases the amount of money NASA can use from the SLS budget to build new facilities for SLS and Orion as well as their ground operations.

You'll notice that this bill is shuffling money around within NASA. No new money is added; the increases to SLS and Commercial Crew are at the expense of space operations and cross-agency support, which is the pool of money that funds NASA centers and administrative operations. It's very hard to say exactly what those impacts would be at this point, since both space operations and CAS are very large programs.

These funding levels are still subject to the Sequester, though, but it remains to be seen how NASA will spread around the cuts within the Exploration Directorate.

Again, consider these preliminary numbers that illuminate the current focus of the House's attention regarding NASA. It's disappointing to see that Planetary Science, which is responsible for so much public attention and success, did not get a specific shout-out to have its funding increased or even maintained.

We'll follow the details as the Senate takes up similar legislation in the coming weeks.

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