At first glance, the administration’s fiscal year 2014 budget proposal doesn’t look that different from the agency’s 2013 proposal: both request nearly the same amount of money ($17.715 billion in FY14 versus $17.711B in FY13) with only modest variations amount the key accounts. (OF course, NASA ended up with considerably less than it requested: about $16.6 billion overall once the final accounting for sequestration and rescission is taken into account.) Here’s the budget at a glance:
|Account||FY14 request ($M)|
|Cross Agency Support||$2,850.3|
The highest profile initiative is beginning work on a mission to retrieve a small asteroid and return it to cislunar space, where it will be visited by astronauts on an SLS/Orion mission, possibly the already scheduled EM-2 mission in 2021. The overall asteroid mission initiative gets $105 million in the budget request, although only $78 million would be directly related the mission itself: $38 million in space technology to work the solar electric propulsion system the robotic retrieval spacecraft would use, and $40 million in advanced research and development in exploration to encounter asteroids, including dealing with “uncooperative targets”. In addition, there is $7 million in space technology to study asteroid impact mitigation strategies, and $20 million in science to improve asteroid searches.
The program is spread out over three directorates, rather than consolidated into one, because the program is still in its earliest stages. “We decided to preferentially invest in the kinds of technologies we needed anyway,” a senior NASA official, speaking on background, said prior to the budget’s public rollout. Solar electric propulsion, dealing with uncooperative targets, and asteroid searches were individually key programs, the official explained, that could be used for other applications regardless of how the asteroid retrieval mission pans out. The official added NASA hopes to get the overall cost of the mission below the $2.6-billion estimate in the Keck Institute for Space Studies report last year, but declined to say by how much, noting that NASA has not yet performed a mission concept review, planned for this summer.
The budget also includes “full funding” for both the SLS and Orion programs, as well as for Commercial Crew, where NASA is seeking $821 million. In the last two budgets, NASA has sought over $800 million for the program but received only a fraction of that: $406 million in FY12 and under $490 million (post-rescission and -sequestration) in FY13. The NASA official emphasized that this full funding was needed in FY14 in order to keep the program on track for beginning flights in 2017. “You can’t hold 2017 at $525 [million]” in 2014 and beyond, the official said, referring to the amount Congress provided for the program in FY13 before rescission and sequestration.
One other change in the FY14 budget is a revamp of the agency’s education program. As part of a broader administration initiative in STEM education, NASA’s education efforts are being consolidated with about a dozen other agencies, with the Department of Education, NSF, and the Smithsonian taking lead roles. That results in a lower topline for the program—$94 million versus a pre-sequester $125 million for FY13—but the official said there would still be a strong emphasis on education programs at NASA, and expected other agencies to make use of NASA capabilities. “They’re not only going to want to partner with us, they’re going to need to,” the official said. NASA believes it could end up with a more effective program in the long run by taking advantage of the broader reach of those other agencies under this initiative.