Views and Estimates for FY 2014 Budget, House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology (NASA)

Status Report From: House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology
Posted: Monday, March 11, 2013

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President Obama has yet to transmit his budget request for Fiscal Year 2014 (FY14) to Congress. The following Views and Estimates of the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology are based on the President's last budget proposal over one year ago and vigorous oversight of the agencies and programs under the Committee's jurisdiction since that time. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration is our nation's primary civilian space and aeronautics research and development agency. The agency plans and executes missions that increase our understanding of Earth, the solar system, and the universe. NASA operates the International Space Station (ISS), a fleet of satellites throughout our solar system, Mars rovers, and a small number of research aircraft. NASA undertakes activities in technology development and transfer, and education and outreach. The agency also participates in a number of interagency activities such as the Next Generation Air Transportation System with the Federal Aviation Administration, information technology development, and climate change research. With the retirement of the Space Shuttle, America currently has no domestic capability to transport our astronauts to and from the International Space Station-a strategic national capability. NASA currently pays the Russians $63 million per seat for each of our astronauts to hitch a ride.

Leadership in space exploration is a worthy goal, and by comparison, our nation spent as much on the so-called stimulus bill in 2009 as the entire NASA budget for the past 54 years. The Committee supported NASA's budget request of $17.7 billion in FY13, which is $58 million less (0.3 percent reduction) than appropriated amounts for FY12. For FY13, NASA is authorized to receive $19.9 billion, and the Committee plans to re-authorize NASA for FY2014 in the coming months. Within that topline budget, however, the Committee remains concerned with the Administration's budget priorities for certain programs and the lack of leadership in space exploration, both human and robotic. The Administration is ceding America's leadership in space exploration and instead funding more environmental-monitoring satellites and studies.

NASA's Earth Science budget request of $1.785 billion in FY2013 is over $300 million more per year than the agency spent prior to the Obama Administration taking office. The Administration's budget request cut NASA's Planetary Science budget request by $300 million in FY 2013. This prompted a senior NASA scientist and program manager with almost 33 years of experience to quit and speak out publicly against the Administration's budget proposal.

The Committee supports NASA's re-plan for the James Webb Space Telescope with a targeted launch date of fall 2018. The Administration failed to address known budget and schedule problems for several years due to the technical complexity of the project, which remains the top priority of the astronomy and astrophysics scientific community. The Committee will continue to closely oversee this program to ensure it remains on schedule and within budget.

The FYI3 budget also includes increased funding for Space Technology development. The FYI3 request seeks $699 million, an increase of $125.3 million or 21.8 percent above FY12 levels. The Committee generally supports technology development, but these funds are better spent in bringing NASA astronaut crew transport systems online operationally as soon as possible. American astronauts should be launched into space onboard American rockets, not Russian.

With regard to human space flight, the NASA Authorization Act of 2010 directed the Agency to prioritize development of the Space Launch System (SLS) and Multi Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV) to replace the Space Shuttle, which was retired in 2011. The Act also authorized NASA to continue activities related to development of a commercial crew launch system, but emphasized Congressional intent that NASA develop the SLS and MPCV as soon as possible to ensure U.S. backup access to the ISS in case commercial crew or cargo capabilities fail to materialize. NASA's budget proposes to reverse the priorities established by Congress in both authorization and appropriation legislation. NASA seeks to reduce funding for the SLS and Orion MPCV. Under this budget proposal, the SLS/MPCV system would not be operational until 2021.

The Committee finds it unacceptable for the U.S. to rely on the Russian Soyuz system. NASA needs to develop a vehicle to transport American astronauts to the International Space Station as soon as possible, We must keep an eye on safety and strategically balance the next steps of human exploration (e.g., the Moon, near-Earth asteroids, and Mars). However, all other priorities are secondary to this immediate goal of space transport.

While NASA's Commercial Crew program could be the primary means of transporting American astronauts, we cannot be solely reliant on this program. The Orion MPCV, Space Launch System, and Commercial Crew programs require a program track with a sufficient budget to support the Space Station as soon as possible in preparation for the next steps of human exploration beyond Low Earth Orbit and ensure American preeminence in space.

Due to a constrained budget environment, goals-such as maintaining 2.5 commercial teams or demonstration flights beyond low-Earth orbit need to be secondary to the primary goal of developing a vehicle to safely transport American astronauts to the International Space Station and beyond. As Neil Armstrong testified before the Committee: "Access to low Earth orbit should be our primary objective in any plans in the evolutionary development of a new versatile lift vehicle with future deep space missions as a follow-on."

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