Final FY2021 NASA Funding Provides Only 25 Percent of HLS Request

Final FY2021 NASA Funding Provides Only 25 Percent of HLS Request

Congress finalized FY2021 appropriations today.  Overall, NASA will receive $23.271 billion, almost $2 billion less than requested. Importantly for the Trump Administration’s Artemis program to return astronauts to the Moon by 2024, it provides only $850 million instead of $3.4 billion for Human Landing Systems. The bill restores funding for Earth and space science programs as well as STEM education programs, congressional priorities the Trump Administration wanted to kill, and admonishes NASA for leaving them out of the request.

The “Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021” combines all 12 regular appropriations bills into one, including the Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) bill that funds NASA.

NASA and other federal agencies have been operating under a series of Continuing Resolutions (CRs) since FY2021 began on October 1.  Yesterday Congress passed a one-day CR that expires at midnight tonight to give the extra time needed to get the bill finished.

UPDATE, December 22, 12:10 am ET:  The House and Senate passed the Consolidated Appropriations bill December 21, but it cleared the Senate just before midnight. The House Rule providing for consideration of the bill reportedly included a 7-day extension to the CR in order to give Congress time to enroll the bill, checking for typographical errors, for example, before sending it to the President.

The Trump Administration requested a 12 percent increase for NASA in order to fund the Artemis program: $25.2 billion for FY2021 compared to the $22.6 billion it received in FY2020. While the goal of returning astronauts to the Moon has broad bipartisan support in Congress, the Trump deadline of 2024 — set because it would have been the end of his second term if he had been reelected — won lukewarm support at best from Republicans and none from Democrats who pointed to both budgetary and technical hurdles.

Chief among the latter was developing the landing systems needed to take astronauts from lunar orbit down to and back from the surface.  Those Human Landing Systems (HLS) are only now in preliminary design.  NASA estimated it would cost $16 billion over 5 years (FY2021-2025) just for HLS. The total funding over those 5 years needed to meet the 2024 deadline, in addition to all of NASA’s other activities, was $27.97 billion.

As in prior budget requests, the Trump Administration proposed terminating three Earth science programs (PACE, CLARREO-Pathfinder, and CMS), the next large space telescope (WFIRST/Roman Space Telescope), and NASA’s STEM Education programs. This time it added termination of another astrophysics project, the airborne SOFIA telescope.  It also again proposed deferral of a new upper stage to increase the capability of the Space Launch System (SLS).

All are well-known congressional priorities. The Senate Appropriations Committee chastised the Administration for proposing their elimination assuming Congress would add back the money, which the committee estimated at $750 million.  In its report on its version of the FY2021 spending bill, the Republican-led committee rebuked the Administration saying “the shortfalls of NASA’s fiscal year 2021 budget proposal make it impossible to fully fund all of NASA’s  proposed activities. Going forward, NASA should refrain from requesting only part of the funding it requires to accomplish all of its missions.”

That message was repeated in the explanatory statement accompanying the final bill today.

Partial Funding Requests. — The agreement notes that going forward, NASA should refrain from requesting only part of the funding it requires to accomplish all of its missions. Additionally, the agreement objects to NASA’s efforts in recent fiscal years to redirect funding away from priorities clearly set by the Congress in law and has included more specific bill language to curtail such actions.

The total breakdown of funding for NASA is shown in this table from the explanatory report.


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