Senate Budget Committee Recommends Increase for NASA Citing Military Solid Rocket Motor Needs

Senate Budget Committee Recommends Increase for NASA Citing Military Solid Rocket Motor Needs

The Senate Budget Committee today recommended increasing the amount of funds available to NASA for FY2011 to $19.7 billion, $1 billion more than the agency’s FY2010 appropriations or $726 million above the President’s request for FY2011. Reading the summary of the committee’s intent and listening to a colloquy between the committee’s chairman, Senator Kent Conrad (D-ND), and Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL), suggests that the motivation is to support terrestrial military requirements at least as much as space program goals, however.

The committee marked up the FY2011 budget resolution today. The budget resolution does not provide funding to agencies, but sets the amount of money that each of the 12 appropriations subcommittees may spend. (Not sure what a markup is? See our “What’s a Markup” Fact Sheet.)

An overview of the “chairman’s mark” – the recommendation of Chairman Conrad — explains that it provides funds to continue flying the space shuttle into FY2011 if needed to complete the remaining scheduled missions. The President’s FY2011 budget request contains funds for shuttle flights in the first quarter of FY2011 only. The overview also states that “it remains the policy of the United States to possess the capability of continuous access to space” and the chairman’s mark supports efforts to reduce the gap between the end of the shuttle program and the availability of a new system whether developed by the commercial sector or the government. It goes on to endorse continued testing of technologies and vehicles for the purpose of developing a new heavy lift launch vehicle (HLLV).

That latter point, in particular, was the subject of a colloquy between Senator Conrad and Senator Nelson. Senator Nelson is an avid supporter of human spaceflight, but the discussion suggests that on a broader level, the committee’s interest is supporting the military’s need for solid rocket motors, not just NASA’s human space flight aspirations. A webcast available on C-SPAN (this colloquy starts at minute 01:08:41) shows Senator Nelson linking the Department of Defense (DOD’s) need for solid rocket motors “that protect this country’s national security in our submarines and silos” and interest in continued testing of Ares-1X and developing a new HLLV for NASA. Senator Conrad soberly notes that there are classified matters that could not be discussed in that forum, but it is “absolutely essential for the national security that this [provision] go forward.” He adds that he hopes it will be retained, but “we are going to have to fight for this.”

The House and Senate Budget Committees set the total amount of funding that is available for each of the 12 subcommittees of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees to spend. Each chamber is supposed to pass a budget resolution and ultimately compromise on a single budget resolution for both. In some years, however, compromise cannot be reached on a joint resolution.

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