The least surprising headline of the day is from Aerospace Daily: “NASA Funding Mired In Budget Politics”. While politics has always played a major role, the article suggests that the situation this year is even more complicated and uncertain than usual. Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), who chairs the Senate appropriations subcommittee whose jurisdiction includes NASA, told Aerospace Daily that the Senate has barely started work on the FY2012 appropriations bills, as it sorts through the consequences of the final FY11 continuing resolution as well as the ongoing debate about raising the debt limit. Mikulski and other appropriations subcommittee chairs have yet to receive their budget allocations, which means that they can’t start work on marking up appropriations bills.
The path is a little clearer in the House, at least from a procedural standpoint. According to the schedule published in May by the House Appropriations Committee, the Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies subcommittee (which includes NASA and NOAA) will mark up its appropriations bill a week from today, July 7 (which by coincidence is the day before the last shuttle launch); the full committee will take up the bill on July 13. But the committee is otherwise keeping its plans close to its vest, beyond a budget allocation that suggests the potential for significant across-the-board budget cuts.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen,” Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL), who does not serve on the appropriations committee, told the Huntsville Times earlier this week. “Hopefully, NASA can survive. But that’s going to be up to the public to decide what they want… That’s going to be a battle.”
In the same interview, Brooks also addressed comments made in a debate earlier this month by Republican presidential candidates about funding NASA. Dismissing perceptions by some who watched the debate that the candidates were not supportive of NASA, Brooks said that any of the candidates would back NASA more than President Obama, and that specifically “you’ve got Mitt Romney and you’ve got [Tim] Pawlenty” as “likely” supporters of the agency. Romney, as previously noted here, does have a modest track record on space policy from his 2008 campaign, but Pawlenty, the former governor of Minnesota, does not.
Those Republican presidential candidates may be getting a visit in the coming months from someone who freely speaks his mind on space policy: Buzz Aldrin. “I’m going to be talking to the people” running for the GOP presidential nomination, he said in a speech this week in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Aldrin, who according to the report “expressed disappointment” that the president made no public speech or other acknowledgement of the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy’s speech calling for a manned lunar landing by the end of the 1960s, said space exploration needs a “specific public objective”.