NASA's Budget for 2012 Is Set--Worry About 2013 Budget Begins
It's done. The U.S. President has signed the Appropriations bill for NASA's fiscal year 2012 budget. The fight on the FY12 budget is over. The top line budget for NASA is $17.8 billion. While this is $648 million less than last year's level and $924 below what the President requested for FY12, it is far better than the $16.8 billion proposed earlier this year by the House of Representatives.
There are winners (James Webb Space Telescope, Space Launch System, Multipurpose Crew Vehicle), casualties (Commercial Crew, Space Technology), and those who slipped only a little (Planetary Science, Earth Science.)
Planetary Society Members who raised their voices may not see all their wishes fulfilled in this budget, but you can take pride in knowing that you were heard and made a difference. Considering all the pressures -- economic recession, U.S. federal deficit -- the science and exploration we support came out pretty well.
The budget saga of the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) has attracted the most popular attention. In early skirmishing, the U.S. House of Representatives approved a budget that would have cancelled the big telescope in response to cost overruns and schedule delays. The Senate, with Barbara Mikulski of Maryland leading the charge, then approved a budget that provided JWST some $150 million more than NASA had requested.
In the arm-wrestling that followed between the House and Senate, the Senate prevailed. JWST is alive and well and moving forward. That's great news for astrophysics and those of us who love those imagination-stretching images from deep space.
Now, we're turning our attention to the FY 2013 budget, which is being laid out by the White House and its Office of Management and Budget (OMB). Those numbers are not yet available, although speculation abounds. NASA will probably get its "passback" from OMB around Thanksgiving and will get a chance to work the numbers before the President's Budget Request is sent to Congress in early February next year.
We will be closely watching what happens with NASA's Mars program. There are two missions -- to launch in 2016 and 2018 -- now in the pipeline, both to be conducted in partnership with the European Space Agency (ESA). Recently, NASA backed out of a commitment to launch the 2016 mission, saying it couldn't afford it. ESA then asked the Russian space agency to come aboard as a partner in return for providing the launch. Russia has not yet responded.
Planetary scientists are apprehensive about what the FY 2013 budget will provide for these planned Mars missions, which would begin a campaign to return samples of the Red Planet to Earth. There is speculation that OMB is reluctant to commit to a series of missions culminating in Mars sample return, which was given top priority as a flagship-category mission by the decadal study recently completed by the planetary science community.
With today's signing of the 2012 NASA budget bill and the release of the 2013 budget a few months away, we've entered a quiet time for space politics. But that doesn't mean nothing will be happening!
Keep watching this blog and my political Twitter account, @PlanetCharlene, for developments. The Planetary Society, because of the strength of its Membership, is a potent force in space politics. You continue to make a difference.