NASA FY2014 Operating Plan Shows Full Support for SOFIA

NASA FY2014 Operating Plan Shows Full Support for SOFIA

Concerns that NASA might try to use FY2014 funds to begin mothballing the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) may be allayed by NASA’s FY2014 operating plan, which was recently approved by Congress.  It shows the agency plans to spend $84.4 million on SOFIA in FY2014, very close to the appropriated level.  NASA released a distilled version of its FY2014 operating plan today at the request of

Like last year, NASA declined to release the operating plan itself, which typically provides considerable detail on the “puts and takes” of how it plans to spend the money appropriated by Congress.   Although Congress occasionally specifies an exact dollar amount for a program, project or activity in an appropriations law, more often it specifies funding at an account (e.g. Space Technology) or subaccount (e.g. Earth Science) level without getting into details.   NASA determines those details and provides them in an operating plan (often a succession of operating plans throughout the year) sent to Congress.   The operating plans are closely held by NASA and the congressional appropriations committees for reasons that are mystifying considering how much both the Administration and Congress insist that the government should be transparent.

However, NASA provided with a distilled version of the operating plan showing how much it plans to spend in its major accounts, subaccounts, and programs.  It also is posted on NASA’s budget website.

There is much interesting detail in that table, but one item of particular interest is the amount for SOFIA. The Obama Administration is proposing to mothball SOFIA in the FY2015 budget request and only $12 million is requested to accomplish that.   SOFIA is a 747 aircraft that flies at very high altitudes to allow observations of the universe in the infrared wavelengths.  It is a joint project between NASA and its German counterpart, DLR, with NASA paying 80 percent of the annual $100 million operating costs and DLR paying the remaining 20 percent.

SOFIA has many supporters in Congress and the astrophysics community.  The 2014 NASA authorization bill (H.R. 4412) that cleared that House Science, Space and Technology Committee yesterday prohibits NASA from spending any of its FY2014 funding to start closing down SOFIA before Congress decides on its fate.   The concern is that the amount of money the President is requesting for FY2015 to close down SOFIA, $12 million, is insufficient and NASA might be tempted to begin the close out process using FY2014 funds.

The operating plan, however, shows that NASA plans to spend $84.4 million on SOFIA in FY2014, very close to the $87.4 million that was appropriated.

Correction:  A typo in an earlier version of this story inadvertently identified the SOFIA aircraft as a 777 rather than 747.

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