Congress, NASA

Mixed reactions to NASA budget proposal

The release of NASA’s fiscal year 2015 budget proposal on Tuesday didn’t generate many strong reactions, either positive or negative. “I’m mixed,” writes The Planetary Society’s Casey Dreier in a blog post summarizing the budget. He was pleased there was a small amount of money to begin pre-formulation work on a Europa mission, but worried about a long-term decline of missions. “Analysts were worried about that a flat NASA budget at $17.7 billion would be difficult to maintain, given NASA’s commitments,” he writes. “Now we’re over $200 million less than that. SOFIA is the most recent casualty of this slow decline.” (The society’s official statement on the budget will come after the release of more detailed budget information, expected either late this week or early next week.)

Congressman Adam Schiff (D-CA) also sees the budget as an “improvement” for planetary science at NASA, but an insufficient one. “While I’m pleased to see the budget continues to provide funding for the Mars Exploration Program, in particular the Mars 2020 mission, and recognizes the importance of a future mission to Europa, a far greater investment will be necessary to ensure America’s preeminence in planetary science,” said the congressman, whose district includes JPL. “I look forward to working with my colleagues, once again, to restore adequate funding to planetary science and only wish it wasn’t necessary to do so year after year.”

The Space Foundation weighed in on the budget in general, supporting the funding levels for programs such as SLS and Orion, ISS, and commercial crew. It also argued that the additional $885 million above the $17.46 billion baseline, part of the administration’s overall Opportunity, Growth, and Security Initiative (OGSI), should be funded. “With NASA’s budget at a historic low as a percentage of the federal budget, we strongly support the $18.4 billion proposal as a bare minimum,” Space Foundation CEO Elliot Pulham said in a statement.

The overall NASA budget proposal also got support from the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA). “While budget details on specific exploration accounts are not yet available, we are encouraged that the President’s request supports human exploration and we look forward to learning more details on the President’s recommendations to increase space investments,” AIA president and CEO Marion Blakey said in the statement. She added the AIA “strongly support[s] the proposal to extend the space station until at least 2024; the work that is being done there cannot be replicated at any other national laboratory.”

The Commercial Spaceflight Federation said it supported the budget requests for commercial crew and space technology, whose requests are significantly above what those programs received in 2014. “We applaud the robust support for Commercial Crew and Space Technology which will strengthen our space industrial base, and secure the nation’s place as a leader of exploration and innovation,” CSF president Michael Lopez-Alegria.

A key member of Congress, though, didn’t share the relatively upbeat assessments of those industry groups. “However, I am disappointed to see flat or even decreased funding in a number of key areas of the federal government’s R&D budget,” said Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), the ranking member of the House Science Committee. “For example, the budget request for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration fails to even meet the 2014 enacted funding level and, if enacted, will hinder the agency’s performance in the coming years.”

45 comments to Mixed reactions to NASA budget proposal

  • Ben Russell-Gough

    Well, Rep Johnson, you know how to handle this problem – appropriate more! I know that sounds a lot simpler than it actually is to do but, nonetheless, Congress is not bound by the requests if it really thinks that NASA needs more cash-in-hand.

    Unattributed rumours have been whispered regarding the Mars-2021 concept recently suggested to Congress by some industry lobbyists. Nothing solid that I know of and anyone who knows anything about politics will tell you that there are always whispers, rumours and unfunded pet projects flying around the Hill. We’ll have to wait and see, I suppose.

    The significance of this is that if NASA is going to be ordered to do Mars-2021 then, at the very least, EM-2 (the first crewed flight of SLS) needs to shift left by one or two years. Additionally, there will need to be two SLS flights in 2021, fairly close together to launch the mission. Developing the mission vehicle will not be cheap under NASA’s way of doing things. All this will require significant extra funding or the agency will simply be set up to fail. These considerations could impact significantly upon the appropriation/budget process.

    • Hiram

      The schedule impact you sketch out is exactly right. Mars2021 with an SLS will require moving EM-2 to the left by a few years. It will require significant extra funding. That is precisely the plan. Not going to Mars, but accelerating SLS. The advocates believe that if we miss the 2021 launch opportunity, no sweat, we’ll still have SLS (and a long-duration deep space hab as well, I suppose), and the glories of those for cis-lunar space will eclipse the disappointment about missing a Mars opportunity. The thing to understand about Mars2021 is that it’s *not* about Mars. It’s about going far in 2021. Going far is what appeals to Congress. That should have been clear from the House Science hearing, where there was really very little discussion about Mars. Pretty sneaky, really.

      • Michael Kent

        But there is no money to move the SLS and Orion to the left. There is no money for a deep-space hab at all. Or anything in cis-lunar space other than the basic Orion.

        It’s all just a fantasy.

        • Hiram

          “It’s all just a fantasy.”

          But that’s their plan.

          Let’s follow their fantasy out. 2021 will come and go with SLS being possibly accelerated, but by nowhere near enough to mount that kind of Mars mission. The abandoned effort will be labelled noble and heroic. Mars2021 will quickly morph into MoonSoon (because, unfortunately for them, there is no real deadline anymore), and these same folks will be appearing before Congress asking for accelerating development of a lander that could go with the SLS. Congress will get out their measuring tape and say “But, but … are you really going to go FAR?”, and the witnesses will chime “Yeah, verily!”, with their right hands raised and their left on a stack of Moon maps.

          So Mars2021 will have served its purpose of getting us closer to the Moon.

          See, once we have a mission-lonely SLS, the pressure to actually do something with it will be acute. It isn’t now. National pride will be at stake, of course, because we missed out on going to Mars. In the eyes of Congress, only a lunar return will do honor to the unrealized intent of Mars2021.

          I’ll go further. I’ll bet these Mars2021 folks don’t really want to go to Mars. It’s just their fantasy. Because if we did, plans to land a human on Mars would rush to the fore, and eclipse any development of cis-lunar space, which is what they really want to do.

  • amightywind

    Same glacial pace for Commercial Crew. 2017 doesn’t work for geopolitical reasons becoming more apparent every day. The US is buying rides to space from a nation that is the equivalent of Nazi Germany. It is intolerable. Consensus is that the program cannot be accelerated to deliver before 2017. Ridiculous. Light a fire under it! Down select to 1 vendor. Conduct all work in 3 shifts. Staff for 24/7 effort. Consolidation of vendors should allow that.

    • Ben Russell-Gough

      Conduct all work in 3 shifts. Staff for 24/7 effort. Consolidation of vendors should allow that.

      Don’t you think that’s already happening?

      Personally, I’d prefer to have at least two competitors at the time of flight testing. Just in case there are any hidden surprises that emerge when they actually try to fly the system.

      In any case, NASA definitely needs a budget boost right now to achieve anything. I wonder if the politicians know that?

      • amightywind

        No, I don’t, not with finding being split 3 ways. But I’d gladly be proven wrong. NASA doesn’t need a budget boost. NASA needs to end programs. NASA needs reform. The Commercial Crew program is a shining example.

        • josh

          nasa needs to end sls and orion. that would free up 3 billion annually that are now wasted on useless make work projects. ccdev is nasa’s only hope of remaining relevant.

        • Malmesbury

          Competition is vital for nationally important programs.

          Consider the success (lack of) in all the pick-the-winner big ticket defense items. A succession of disasters that limp to the line. And often fail to get there.

          Compare with the history of the Manhattan project, B29 & B32, P51-P47-P38 etc etc.

          • josh

            windy only cares about his paycheck (works for an old space company). that’s the simple truth here. people around here should really stop pretending he’s trying to have a serious discussion.

            • amightywind

              No. I work in the medical devices field now. Aerospace isn’t as lucrative a business.

              • josh

                i highly doubt it. but assuming it was true: it would be right up your alley. going from corrupt old space into the corrupt healthcare industry.

        • Neil Shipley

          You’re absolutely right Windy. Commercial crew IS a shining example of exactly what NASA needs to continue to do. Fixed price, milestone based contracts for work performed according to set specifications with minimal NASA oversight.

    • MrEarl

      Really Windy?!
      Commercial crew would be much further along if those of your ilk had funded it properly from the beginning!
      Your hypocrisy is overwhelming.

      • amightywind

        Baloney! Nowadays NASA only likes programs that never end.

        • Coastal Ron

          amightywind said:

          Nowadays NASA only likes programs that never end.

          COTS ended, and ended on budget. And CCDev/CCiCap works the same way, except it hasn’t been fully funded enough to finish quick enough.

          Meanwhile the SLS STILL hasn’t been tasked or funded to do anything, and it’s truly the definition of an unending program – started in 2005, and not projected to reach a MINIMUM level of capability until 16 years later, and THEN it will require years and years MORE funding to reach the level of capacity that SOMEONE thinks is required before SOMEONE decides that they are ready to use it.

          For what?

          Who knows?

          It’s an unending program, so who cares?

        • josh

          you mean like orion and ares1/5/sls… cots was successfully concluded and ccdev will deliver results faster and cheaper than nasa and old space (that means you, windy) ever could.

        • Vladislaw

          Congressional porkonauts only want endless, no bid, cost plus, fixed fee, FAR development contracts that never end. NASA has little say in the matter.

    • josh

      as if your ilk knew anything about delivering on schedule. ares 1 was a desaster in that (and every other) regard. we haven’t forgotten, windy.

    • Jim Nobles

      amightywind said, “Consensus is that the program cannot be accelerated to deliver before 2017.”

      Actually I believe one provider could be ready as soon as later summer or early fall 2015. It’s NASA with their new hatchway design that’s holding things up, it’s not scheduled to be installed on the ISS until 2017. As I understand it they’re going to send it up on a Falcon.

    • Ben Russell-Gough

      Oddly enough, it’s the NASA end of the program (specifically, having enough money to buy the first commercial flight) that’s the long pole which is delaying things until 2017. The commercial providers seem to be ready to deliver 12-24 months before then.

  • Aberwys

    From my vantage point, up lose and personal, NASA is starting to stand for Not Another Study Again!

  • seamus

    NASA program funding levels are insufficient across the board.

    Democrats support increased funding, also they support commercial space. Contrast with Republicans frontrunners for the district containing JSC, who don’t even mention space policy issues on their websites.

    • josh

      republicans care about pork/corporate welfare/crony capitalism. they’re frauds.

      • Michael Kent

        Some Republicans. Just like some Democrats.

        COTS, for instance, was started in the Bush White House, and SLS was started by Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL).

        Space is a bi-partisan issue all around. Stop trying to force it into your partisan hole.

        • seamus

          Anti-science is a distinctly Republican trait… or reality just has a liberal bias.

        • vulture4

          I agree space is a bipartisan issue. However the major change in direction in the past twenty years was the termination of Shuttle and initiation of Constellation. The migration from Constellation to SLS/Orion did not signal any major change in strategy, although the goal shifted from lunar landing to an uncertain choice between objectives not requiring a lander. Although COTS was initiated under the Bush administration it was seen as a temporary measure until the termination of US participation in ISS. Commercial Crew and ISS extension were not foreseen.

          There was and remains a clear divide between supporters of Commercial Crew/ISS on the one hand and Constellation (now SLS/Orion) on the other. These represent two distinct strategies; development of the LEO architecture first or development of bases on the lunar surface (or, in the absence of landers, in cislunar space) supported directly from the Earth’s surface.

        • josh

          no, in recent years republicans have been blatantly advocated for corporatism and crony capitalism. just take a look at what’s happening with broadband internet in the us. or the banking sector. it’s disgusting.

          • Robert Clark

            Some key Republicans support the SLS. Is that anti-Science?
            It’s more complicated than just along party lines. Alot of it has to do with key aerospace industries in the Congressman’s or Senator’s districts or states.

            Bob Clark

  • Gary Warburton

    I think, in the interests of safety, they need an inquiry into who can be on the house science committee. Committee members should be required to have at least a masters degree in either physics or engineering and then have each member evaluated for his comprehension of either physics or engineering. There should no skirting around this issue we have to be sure our astronauts will be safe. I vote here to fore that this issue be fully enacted upon forthwith and all dunderheads be removed from the service of the nation. I cannot say how important this issue is to be dealt with immediately.

    • Hiram

      It would help if they believed in basic science. It’s one thing that many are acknowledged climate change skeptics, but several are evolution denialists.

      I mean, it is the “Science” committee, after all. I suppose if they get to make up their own science, then the Judiciary committee could make up their own laws.

      Now, as far as safety, well, maybe they don’t need science to assure that, but of course they could just “join together in prayer to humbly seek” astronaut safety. I guess that’s what Rep. Neugebauer could be counted on for.

      • Matt McClanahan

        Paul Broun both cracks me up and scares the crap out of me. Here we have an actual physician, a credentialed medical doctor, who flatly denies the science of embryology, something which he certainly must’ve studied at some point. Thanks, Georgia.

    • Neil Shipley

      The only way to be sure your astronauts are safe is to never fly. Judging by the current programs SLS and MPCV they’ll be perfectly safe.

    • amightywind

      I’d welcome such an inquiry in other areas of government. Whitehouse Science Adviser John Holdren is a Malthusian climate radical. Former NASA Deputy Administrator has a non-stem Bachelor’s degree. Together they’ve ruined NASA.

      • Hiram

        James Webb was a lawyer. James Beggs had an MBA. Sean O’Keefe has a masters in public administration. I guess they too contributed to the ruin of NASA. But it’s not, of course, about having a STEM education. It’s just about not being dumb enough to thumb your nose at modern science.

        By the way, that Malthusian climate radical is in agreement with the vast majority of climate scientists. He’s Malthusian in that he believes, justifiably, that the population of those scientists is indeed growing dramatically.

        • amightywind

          Never liked O’Keefe. James Webb invented the agency so he came in with transferable credit.

          that Malthusian climate radical is in agreement with the vast majority of climate scientists

          I won’t get dragged off topic here. Just look outside.

          • Hiram

            Webb invented the agency? That would come as a surprise to Glennan, and certainly Congress as well. But Webb certainly created the human spaceflight thrust for NASA that is now largely rudderless. Transferable credit? Heh. Webb did what he did with communication, political, and diplomatic skills, not with STEM skills. Precisely the skills that STEM-emperor Dan Goldin didn’t have. Wanna talk more about who ruined the agency?

            As to getting dragged off topic here, you dragged us onto it, I believe. I don’t see any climate scientists outside, but I’ll bet they’re around.

          • seamus

            Ah, the fallacy of “Just look outside.”

            The Alaska statewide average temperature was 14.8°F above the 1971-2000 average, marking the third-warmest January in the 96-year period of record.

            What happened was we had really unusual weather. When it got really cold down there in the Lower 48, it got really warm up here and it actually started to rain. Temperatures at the tops of the mountains were approaching high 40s, even 50 degrees, and rain. That just destabilized the snowpack that’s there every year. And people who’ve lived here for 30, 40 years say they’ve never seen a slide like that.

            To conclude that global warming has ended based on recent cold snaps is another example of the misleading practice of focusing on small pieces of the puzzle while ignoring the broader picture.

          • josh

            o’keefe was the best administrator after james webb. figures you didn’t like him.

  • James

    Challenger blew up in 1986. Columbia in 2003. The quote: “Normalization of Deviance” was mentioned in both accident investigation reports.

    I love that phrase because it’s always in action at NASA. Now, it’s called “Normalization of Decline”

    Flat budgets are the norm, and represent a decline. At best, NASA will be getting flat budgets for the foreseeable short, mid, and long term futures. At NASA HQ, there is rejoicing at a flat budget. “Flat is the new Up”, goes the saying. That’s called “Normalization of Decline”

    NASA is a shell of it’s former self, both technically, pro grammatically, and also from a leadership perspective.

    This decline is becoming invisible to those in and around NASA and it’s beltway orbit, and the orbit of the states with NASA Centers – all of whose stakeholders cheer at flat budgets: “At least it isn’t’ a cut”, they say. As long as pork flows, they are meeting re election strategic goals; indifference to the decline, now the norm.

    NASA: Chicken, head chopped off, wobbling…..plop.

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