Congress, NASA

NASA FY2008 budget review: other provisions

[Third in a series.]

Following up on my previous posts summarizing the budget and reviewing its various requests for reports and studies, there is some other language of interest in the appropriations legislation itself and its accompanying conference report:

Much to the consternation of The Mars Society and other human Mars exploration advocates, the bill retains the language in the House version banning funding for “any research, development, or demonstration activities related exclusively to the human exploration of Mars.”

The bill itself also prevents NASA from implementing any layoffs through the end of the fiscal year. It also requires NASA to develop a strategy “for minimizing job losses” during the Shuttle-Constellation transition, including projections of civil servant and contractor workforce levels at the agency’s various field centers. The initial version of the strategy is due to Congress within 90 days, with updates to be provided every six months “until the successor human-rated space transport vehicle is fully operational”.

The conference report notes that no money is being provided to NASA’s Centennial Challenges prize program in FY08 to fund additional prizes. “Providing additional funds to a program based on prizes only creates a sizeable amount of unused funds while other aspects of NASA’s mission are being cut or delayed due to a lack of funds,” the report notes. That language is immediately followed by nearly seven pages of earmarks totaling several tens of millions of dollars (which will be dissected in a later post.)

In the conference report, appropriations said they are “disappointed by the Administration’s request of a less than one percent increase for fiscal year 2008 and projected minimal increases of approximately one percent over the next several years.” The report singles out earth science in particular, noting the recent decadal survey and concerns about the declining number of earth science sensors in orbit. The report “recommends” $40 million to NASA to initiate some of the missions identified in that report, and asks NASA to include in its FY2009 budget submission “its plan for meeting these unmet needs.”

One science area that got an increase in the budget was research and analysis (R&A) funding: a boost of $24 million above the original request. Scientists had expressed concern in the past about cuts in R&A funding, and the report acknowledges “significant cuts in recent years” there. The report also calls on NASA to have the National Research Council assess the space agency’s overall R&A program, including the appropriate funding balance between R&A and flight missions.

The report singles out a few missions for funding. Congress provided $60 million to the Space Interferometry Mission (SIM), $38.4 million above NASA’s request, and directed NASA to move SIM into the development phase. NASA had planned to use the program solely for engineering risk reduction as opposed to an actual science mission, a direction opposed by appropriators. The bill also includes $42 million for a lunar lander mission as part of the exploration program; the report calls the mission “of critical importance for the exploration vision”.

Appropriators also called on NASA and the administration to provide “sufficient funds” for the Orion crew exploration vehicle in its FY 2009 and 2010 budget requests to keep the project on schedule, rather than try to carry over balances from previous years.

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