White House: House NASA Bill Would Do Serious Damage To Space Program

White House: House NASA Bill Would Do Serious Damage To Space Program

A day after the House Science, Space, and Technology (SS&T) Committee approved a NASA authorization bill for 2016 and 2017 with deep cuts to certain NASA programs, the White House responded by asserting that the bill “would do serious damage to the Nation’s space program.”

The Republican-sponsored bill, HR. 2039, was approved by the House SS&T committee yesterday on a party line vote.  Four Democratic amendments to either replace the bill entirely or add funding to certain accounts (earth science, space technology, and aeronautics) were defeated, also on party line votes.  The bill shifts money, especially from earth science, to the Space Launch System (SLS), the Orion spacecraft, associated ground systems, planetary science, and astrophysics. 

The cuts to earth science are the most controversial because they are so large.   Republicans argue that NASA’s unique role in government is space exploration and earth science should be funded by other agencies.   Democrats argue that NASA is the only agency that launches satellites for earth science research and it is part of NASA’s core responsibilities.   The first objective listed in the National Aeronautics and Space Act, as amended, is “expansion of human knowledge of the Earth and of phenomena in the atmosphere and space.” 

The bill would make substantial cuts to NASA’s space technology development activities, too.   A SpacePolicyOnline fact sheet on the NASA FY2016 budget request summarizes the key provisions of the bill and includes a table comparing the funding proposed in the bill to NASA’s current funding and the President’s request for FY2016.

Today, President Obama’s science adviser and Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, John Holdren, issued a statement saying the cuts to space technology would risk U.S. leadership in the space industry and “impede progress” on technologies needed to enable humans to travel beyond low Earth orbit.  That goal is embraced by both Democrats and Republicans.  He called the cuts to earth science “draconian” that would “gut” NASA programs that provide observations and measurements needed for forecasting and tracking a wide range of natural disasters.

NASA’s mission to understand the solar system and the universe has “long been matched in importance by its mission to use the unrivaled vantage point of Earth orbit for looking downward,” he said, and it is difficult to understand why Congress would want to undermine NASA’s leadership in “outward-facing and inward-facing” research.

Holdren said the bill would be voted on by the House later this month.  No date has been announced for that action.  The House will be in recess next week.  The Senate has not yet introduced its own FY2016 NASA authorization bill.  If a bill similar to H.R. 2039 did pass the House and Senate, it appears quite unlikely that the President would sign it into law.

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