House Appropriations Commitee FY 2013: Planetary Science (excerpt)

Status Report From: House Appropriations Committee
Posted: Wednesday, April 25, 2012


The Committee on Appropriations submits the following report in explanation of the accompanying bill making appropriations for Commerce, Justice, Science, and related agencies for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2013, and for other purposes.

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Page 64

Planetary Science

The Committee understands that budget pressures within and outside of the Science Mission Directorate have required reductions in NASA's science portfolio. The Committee is concerned, however, by the Administration's proposal to make those reductions disproportionately within the planetary science program. Planetary science has long been one of NASA's most successful programs, and the cuts proposed in the budget request will endanger this strong record and deviate significantly from the program plan envisioned by the most recent planetary science decadal survey. The Committee's recommendation of $1,400,000,000 seeks to address programmatic areas where the Administration's proposal is most deficient in meeting the decadal survey's goals while also ensuring that the program, as a whole, maintains balance among program elements.

The first area of deficiency in the request is Planetary Science Research. The decadal survey recommended increasing research funding by a specified rate above inflation, but the request only achieves this standard by including in the total a new Joint Robot-ics Program for Exploration (JRPE), which is not a traditional research program as envisioned by the NRC. The Committee has addressed this problem by providing $192,000,000 for Planetary Science Research. This level is sufficient to support both the requested level for JRPE and an additional $3,500,000 above the request for traditional research and analysis activities in order to achieve better consistency with the decadal recommendation.

The request also proposes insufficient funding for the Discovery and New Frontiers programs, resulting in significant delays relative to the mission tempos outlined in the decadal. To improve these tempos, the Committee has provided a total of $480,000,000 for Discovery and New Frontiers, which is $115,400,000 above the aggregate requests for these programs. NASA is directed to divide these funds between Discovery and New Frontiers in a manner that optimizes the potential mission tempos for both programs.

The final areas of deficiency in the request are Mars Exploration and Outer Planets. The decadal survey chose a Mars sample return mission and a Jupiter Europa orbiter as its top two flagship-class priorities, but the budget request reduces funds for a future Mars mission (''Mars Next Decade'') to a fraction of previous planning estimates and eliminates all funding for substantive work on a new outer planets mission. As such, the request will inhibit significant progress from being made on either priority, even in descoped form.

The Committee rectifies this situation by increasing the funds available for Mars Next Decade to $150,000,000, or $88,000,000 above the request, in order to allow for a more substantial mission concept to be developed. According to the decision rules of the decadal survey, however, that mission concept must lead to the accomplishment of sample return in order to remain a top funding priority. Because the Committee is unable to discern whether this condition is being met from the scant information provided to date about Mars Next Decade, NASA is directed to promptly submit its Next Decade mission concept to the NRC for evaluation. The recommendation includes language prohibiting the obligation of funds for the mission unless and until the NRC submits to the Committees on Appropriations a certification confirming that the mission concept will lead to the accomplishment of sample return as described in the Mars Astrobiology Explorer-Cacher section of the decadal survey. If the NRC instead determines that NASA's chosen mission concept will not lead to the accomplishment of sample return, NASA is directed to immediately: (1) notify the Committees; (2) reallocate the funds provided for Mars Next Decade to the Outer Planets Flagship program in order to begin substantive work on the second priority mission, a descoped Europa orbiter; and (3) submit the Mars Next Decade mission concept, or any substitute Mars mission concept, for competition in the Discovery or New Frontiers programs.

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