Casey DreierApr 24, 2013

House NASA Budget Hearing Live-blog

The House Space Subcommitee meets today to discuss NASA's 2014 Budget proposal. The single witness is Charles Bolden, NASA Administrator. This House committee is the authorizing committee for NASA, meaning that they can set spending caps on the total budget as well as set overall policy, but they don't actually appropriate the money.

If you haven't yet, please write to Congress right now to support Planetary Science (facing more than a $200 million cut).

Note: these comments reflect my personal impressions of the hearing and not official Society positions.

12:59pm PDT: And we're done. Nothing too surprising here. The House focused on the usual issues: SLS, Orion, Commercial Crew. Nice to see some discussion of the massive, complicated restructuring of NASA's Education program, though not much light was thrown on the issue. Disappointing not see any specific questions about Planetary Science come up, but no one on the authorizing committee represents districts that have a big Planetary presence. The House Appropriations committee includes strong Planetary proponents Adam Schiff and John Culberson, but they met last month before the budget was released and currently have no plans to meet again.

A lot of the focus was on the heavyweights (in terms of budget) of human spaceflight and rocket development. I'm always a little sad to see NASA's Science division so underplayed. Maybe it's because overall the division is working so well that no questions need be asked? We didn't hear anything about Astrophysics or Heliophysics. Only a small mention of Earth Science in reference to some reprogramming of NOAA responsibilities in the budget. JWST was mentioned only to raise concern about the status of this mega-mission (which Bolden says is fine, but the GAO may disagree). And, as I mentioned, not much on Planetary Science beyond concern that they now have to pay for Plutonium-238 development (a sad necessity, but a necessity nonetheless).

Be back tomorrow with coverage of the Senate's appropration committee hearing on NASA's budget.

12:50pm PDT: Brownley (D, CA) Brings up cleanup issues for Santa Susanna Laboratory and whether NASA will properly finish that. I'm always surprised (note: shouldn't be) about how parochial some of these questions can be.

12:44pm PDT: Bolden does not disagree with the estimate of $2.6B but seems to think it involves human activity. Keck's estimate [pdf] was just for the robotic portion of the mission, though. He does not want to make a guess as to how much it will cost, but will probably be less. That just doesn't make sense to me.

12:34pm PDT: Bolden, laying down the straight talk: "I don't need new technology to go to the Moon. I need money to go to the Moon."

12:33pm PDT: New defense for asteroid mission over a Moon mission (benefit of the recess, I think). Bolden argues that solar electric propulsion development is a key technology needed for a Mars mission, and developing in that for ARM would help.

12:31pm PDT: Stewart (R, UT) brings up a moon mission again. Not sure why they think NASA could just up and land on the Moon again without a comparable increase in the budget.

12:30pm PDT:

12:27pm PDT: Frederica Wilson (D, FL): How does a 40% cut to NASA's Education division allow you pursue your goal. Bolden: if we work

12:23pm PDT: Mo Brooks (R, AL) shows support for asteroid mission (!). Likes how SLS is required for human component of ARM.

12:19pm PDT: We're back from recess.

11:46am PDT: Some pretty tough questions today, mainly about SLS and ARM. The House, in general, seems to be quite skeptical of the asteroid retrieval mission, much in contrast to the Senate, where we have at least two Senators who have stated open support (Nelson and Mikulski). The House's skepticism seems to stretch across party lines, with Donna Edwards (D-MD) voicing quite a bit of concern, though without an outright rejection. Lamar Smith (R-TX) keeps mentioning the Moon as an alternative to goint to an asteroid, which sure, would be nice, but I don't see the House coming up with the extra billions of dollars necessary to get there (not to mention the Senate).

Bolden didn't have good answers on SLS's joint confidence level (how likely that the project is on time AND on budget). He did make it quite clear that continued sequestration would definitely throw this program off track, which should be obvious to anyone but bears repeating as much as possible. Sequestration throws *everything* off track, since it just lops off a percentage of the budget for very carefully planned multi-year projects. Unfortunately, sequestration does not look likely to lift anytime soon.

11:44am PDT: Subcommittee recesses for an unrelated vote on the House floor. Back in a bit.

11:40am PDT: Rep. Kennedy (D, MA-04) asks about the re-organization of NASA's Education program. Bolden says that NASA was able to demonstrate effectives of EPO programs, and that the President wanted to try something new in Federal STEM programs.

11:40am PDT:

11:33am PDT: Both Smith and Edwards have problems with ARM, too. Raises crticism from SBAG to Bolden who is unfamilar with the statement, unfortunately.

Update: here's the quote from the SBAG on ARM (before NASA announced its support):

(3) The "Capture an Asteroid" Mission Proposal Being Considered by NASA. At our July 2012 meeting in Pasadena a presentation on an asteroid retrieval mission was given by John Brophy of JPL. While the meeting participants found it to be very interesting and entertaining, it was not considered to be a serious proposal because of obvious challenges, including the practical difficulty of identifying a target in an appropriate orbit with the necessary physical characteristics within the required lead time using existing or near- to long-term ground-based or space-based survey assets. When it came to our attention that this project was being seriously considered by the agency, SBAG — representing broad expertise in asteroid science and mission planning — offered to provide an independent technical review of this proposal. The NASA Small Bodies Assessment Group is co-chartered by HEOMD and SMD. The SBAG Terms of Reference state that it is responsible for "providing science input for planning and prioritizing human and robotic exploration activities for the small bodies of the Solar System." This includes near-Earth asteroids. Failure of HEOMD and SMD to utilize SBAG in this situation seems a peculiar decision and raises the serious question of the extent to which HEOMD and SMD wish to make decisions based on restricted input promoting specific outcomes.

11:31am PDT: Bolden: We're developing a "strategy" for the asteroid retrieval mission (ARM), not a mission itself, in FY2014. This mission would go away if sequestration continues into FY14.

11:30am PDT: Bolden: "All bets are off" if sequestration continues.

11:28am PDT: Rep. Edwards adds testimony by Planetary Society into the record.

11:26am PDT: Palazzo is focusing on SLS here. Not going to add too much to this, since it's outside the purvey of our focus of planetary science. Bolden doesn't anticipate missed deadlines on the program.

11:11am PDT: Lamar Smith, Chairman of the full Science committee has his opening statement. Additional statements of support for launching "American astronauts from American soil," and a shout-out to need for SLS. Says Congressional support for NASA is strong.

11:10am PDT:

11:09am PDT: Ranking member (from the minority party) Donna Edwards is up. Concered that NASA has too many priorities without enough budget. Yep!

Also worried that NASA is cherry-picking strategic plan from 2010 NASA Authorization bill. Also seems skeptical about the Asteroid Retrieval Mission. Wants clarification about the rationale of this mission.

11:08am PDT: Palazzo seems extremely skeptical about the Asteroid Retrieval Mission. A mission "out of the blue" without a funding profile. Both valid points.

11:05am PDT: Palazzo is concerned about committment to SLS and Orion program. These get a combined $3B per year, which is about 20% of the total budget. Says that the top priority is getting American astronauts launchingn from American soil on American rockets.

11:02am PDT: Rep. Palazzo (R MS-4) starts the hearing. Expresses disappointment about lateness of budget. The top-line budget request ($17.7B) is "fair."

10:56am PDT: I'll be live-blogging the hearing today, you can watch it at

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