House Appropriators Have Big Plans for NASA – UPDATE

House Appropriators Have Big Plans for NASA – UPDATE

The House Appropriations Committee not only wants NASA to replace the Asteroid Redirect Mission with a focus on returning humans to the lunar surface, but it has other big plans for the agency.  One is to develop interstellar propulsion to enable a probe to be sent to Alpha Centauri at one tenth the speed of light in 2069.  Overall, the committee recommends $19.508 billion for the agency, an increase of $223 million above its current FY2016 funding level.

The draft Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) FY2017 appropriations bill and report were released today in preparation for full committee markup tomorrow (Tuesday).  Subcommittee markup took place last week.  The bill and report remain a draft until markup is completed, and that is only one step in the lengthy congressional appropriations process, but the committee certainly offers some far ranging recommendations for NASA’s future. [UPDATE: The committee approved the bill on May 24.  Rep. Mike Honda (D-CA) offered an amendment to increase funding for earth science by $342 million, but then withdrew it because he did not have offsetting cuts elsewhere to recommend.]

Key committee decisions are outlined in’s NASA FY2017 Budget Request fact sheet, updated today.  Typically in such reports, comparisons are made between a committee’s recommendations and the President’s budget request, but that is not useful this year.  As our fact sheet explains, the request included funding from non-appropriated “mandatory funding” accounts.  Appropriations committees have no jurisdiction over mandatory funding.  Both the House and Senate appropriations committees criticized the President’s request as a “gimmick” and rejected it.  In the committee reports, comparisons are made to the President’s request for appropriated funds, not the mandatory funds, which makes it very difficult to follow.   In our fact sheet, and in the narrative below, we compare the committee’s actions to the appropriated levels for FY2016, not to either version of the request.

Among its major actions, the House committee —

  • Provides no funding for planning for the Asteroid Redirect Mission.  Instead, it wants NASA to “develop plans to return to the Moon to test capabilities that will be needed for Mars.”   The committee’s recommendation is discussed in a separate article published earlier today.
  • Continues support for a robotic mission to Jupiter’s moon Europa — an orbiter to be launched in 2022 and a lander in 2024 — both launched by the Space Launch System (SLS).  This committee has insisted that NASA proceed with a Europa mission even though NASA was not planning to build it because of budget constraints.  The committee provides $260 million for Europa as part of a $1.846 billion budget for planetary science, an increase of $215 million above FY2016.
  • Provides $1.69 billion for earth science, $231 million less than FY2016.  [See note above about Rep. Honda’s amendment, which he withdrew.]
  • Continues support for SLS (and the Enhanced/Exploration Upper Stage) and the Orion spacecraft.  SLS is funded at $2 billion, the same as the FY2016 appropriated level, of which $250 million is for EUS.  Orion is funded at $1.35 billion, $80 million more than FY2016.
  • Requires a number of reports about the commercial crew program, but does not specify how much funding is provided.
  • Directs NASA to submit a plan for developing interstellar propulsion to enable a scientific probe to be sent to Alpha Centauri at a cruising velocity of 0.1c (one tenth the speed of light) in 2069, the 100th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing on the Moon.
  • Encourages NASA to make funds available for studying impact craters in the United States to expand our understanding of the history of Earth and the solar system and to show students research in action as part of STEM education.
  • Provides $25 million for additive manufacturing technology research for use in rocket engines and structures.
  • Provides $35 million for nuclear thermal propulsion research.
  • Provides $75 million for development of a demonstration deep space habitation module.
  • Continues to prohibit NASA and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) from engaging in bilateral space activities with China unless certain conditions are met.  One of those now is that the FBI must certify (in addition to NASA or OSTP) that no technology transfer will occur or that the activity involves knowing interactions with the officials involved in human rights violations.

Committee markup is at 10:30 am ET tomorrow (May 24).  [UPDATE: As noted, the committee approved the bill on May 24.]

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