The fiscal year 2014 budget proposal for NASA is, as previously noted, fairly similar to the agency’s 2013 proposal, with the notable exceptions of the new asteroid initiative and changes to NASA’s education programs as part of the administration’s broader STEM education consolidation. That may be why the budget has, so far, not gotten a very strong reaction, with one notable exception.
Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), chairman of the House Science Committee, did weigh in on NASA’s asteroid retrieval mission plans in his broader statement about the administration’s budget proposal. “While getting points for creativity, a proposed NASA mission to ‘lasso’ an asteroid and drag it to the Moon’s orbit will require serious deliberation,” he stated. “Seemingly out of the blue, this mission has never been evaluated or recommended by the scientific community and has not received the scrutiny that a normal program would undergo.”
By comparison, Smith’s Democratic counterpart on the committee, ranking member Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), did not bring up the asteroid mission or other specifics of the NASA budget proposal in her statement, although she does mention that the STEM education reorganization effort is one area that is “going to require scrutiny.” She does favorably compare the administration’s budget request to Republican budget proposals that made cuts in areas “that lead to breakthroughs in areas like materials science and space exploration.”
While Smith is skeptical of the asteroid mission proposal, the National Space Society (NSS) is enthusiastic about it. They see the mission as supporting efforts to both protect the Earth from asteroid impacts as well as to extract resources from them. Mark Hopkins, chairman of the NSS’s Executive Committee, called the mission an “important step toward the NSS Vision of people living and working in thriving communities beyond the Earth.”
The industry group the Coalition for Space Exploration also supports the budget request, calling the proposed asteroid mission “a stepping stone for deep space exploration will help focus discussion on America’s next steps toward deep space exploration.” But, while NASA says the budget proposal fully funds SLS and Orion, the Coalition is concerned that the FY14 proposal funds those programs at levels below the final FY12 appropriations: almost $175 million for Orion and more than $110 million for SLS. Those programs, they write, “must remain on track to support the already planned 2017 Orion and SLS test flight and 2021 crewed Orion exploration missions.”
The Commercial Spaceflight Federation, not surprisingly, endorses the budget proposal’s plans to fund commercial crew at more than $800 million for FY14, compared to the pre-rescission and -sequester level of $525 million in the FY13 appropriations bill signed into law. It also supports the agency’s space technology budget request; that includes NASA’s Flight Opportunities program, which funds research flight on commercial suborbital vehicles.
An exception to the general, if sometimes qualified, support for the budget proposal comes from The Planetary Society, who is concerned that NASA is cutting deep into its planetary science program. The proposal allocated just over $1.2 billion for planetary in FY14, compared to $1.5 billion in FY12; the administration proposed a similar cut in planetary science in FY13, although Congress partially restored it. Bill Nye, CEO of The Planetary Society, said in a blog post that he found the asteroid retrieval mission proposal “intriguing,” but was disappointed the administration again sought to cut planetary science. “NASA did not get the message from Congress and the public about their wishes for missions to distant worlds,” he stated.