Charlene AndersonNov 15, 2011

NASA On Verge of Getting a Budget -- Congress Will Vote This Week

Here's a quick wrap-up of the "minibus" bill containing budget for NASA for fiscal year 2012, which started 6 six weeks ago. The bill reconciles the competing U.S. House and Senate plans proposed earlier this year, including the House's controversial proposal to cancel JWST.

Overall, and considering today's budget environment, this bill looks pretty good. In fact, Planetary Society Members can consider this a "win" for the programs we have been fighting for.

The bill is expected to be passed by Congress and signed by the President before the end of the week.

Top line: NASA will get $17.8 billion for FY2012. While this is about $1 billion less than NASA requested, it's much better than the nearly $2 billion cut proposed by the House.

Science: The Science program overall actually received an increase of $73 million over NASA's request for a total of nearly $5.1 billion. Science is the only NASA directorate to receive an overall net increase.

James Webb Space Telescope: JWST gets the lion's share of the increase to Science with an increase of $156 million for a total of $530 million, same as the level proposed in the Senate bill, , and MUCH more than the House, which had zeroed out the telescope as a message to NASA about cost-overruns.

Planetary Science: Things look pretty good, with $1.5 billion for the year, which is "only" $40 million below the Administration request. This includes $581 million for Mars exploration ($21 million below request) and $43 million for outer planet flagships, such as a Europa mission. Congress strongly endorsed the decadal survey on planetary science, including support for flagship missions.

Space Technology: The development of new technologies to make more ambitious space exploration possible took a big hit, and was cut nearly in half. Space Technology is funded at $575 million, about $500 million below the Administration's request. This is not good news, since without new technologies to tackle space, efforts to reach beyond low Earth orbit will be slowed.

Commercial Crew: This program is critical to closing the gap since the retirement of the Space Shuttle and is needed to meet our obligations to provide crew transportation services back/forth to the International Space Station. Unfortunately, the Commercial Crew program received only $406 million, about half what the Administration requested.

Space Launch System: The Big Rocket gets $60 million more than was asked for, for a total of $1.8 billion.

Multipurpose Crew Vehicle: Also known as Orion, this capsule that will eventually hold human explorers on missions beyond Earth orbit received $90 million more than requested, for a total of $1.2 billion.

Those are the highlights. If you want to delve deeper into the status of planetary science, here are some excerpts from the bill's language:

About funding within the Science Mission Directorate: "NASA should develop a budget plan for each division that incorporates any necessary reductions.... In proposing reductions, NASA should take care to protect, to the extent possible, high priority missions of the decadal surveys, as well as missions with near-term launch readiness dates. In addition, NASA should be careful to propose a funding portfolio that maintains an essential balance between actual spaceflight projects and the critical mission-enabling activities (research and data analysis, data application, etc.) that support and enhance the value of those projects.

For Mars Exploration: The conference agreement includes no less than $581,700,000 for Mars Exploration. Within the amount provided, NASA shall continue working to define, plan and execute future Mars missions and continue seeking and taking advantage of opportunities for international cooperation on such missions.

For Outer Planet Exploration: The conference agreement also includes $43,000,000 for outer planet flagship missions. The conferees understand that required descoping studies for planetary flagship missions are at or near completion and direct that those studies be submitted to the Committees on Appropriations as soon as possible. NASA is also directed to continue working on a detailed definition of an appropriately descoped flagship mission, consistent with the findings of the most recent planetary science decadal survey.

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