NASA Administrator Charles Bolden spoke with the media today regarding the White House’s 2014 FY Budget Request, which was unveiled Wednesday, April 10, 2013, a few hours prior to the briefing. Joining Bolden was NASA’s Chief Financial Officer Elizabeth Robinson. Given the fact that NASA’s proposed budget dropped by an estimated $50 million, Bolden and Robinson did their best to highlight the positive aspects of the possibilities reflected in the 2014 FY Budget Request. As the 2013 budget is still open, or “unsettled” as Robinson put it, the comparison was made between this request and the 2012 budget. Robinson stressed this when she said, “Given the times we live in, most of the comparisons that I will be giving are from 2012.” Comparing the two highlights the cuts that NASA could now face.
Throughout the briefing Bolden and Robinson tried to place the 2014 FY Budget Request in a positive light. They only occasionally highlighted the fact this request holds the possibility of an estimated $50 million less for NASA than last year. In Bolden’s words, this budget request forced NASA to make some “tough choices.” Things might improve some as the amounts in the budget request are not the final ones the agency will receive.
Under this budget proposal, not all of NASA’s efforts will be cut; some in fact even received the amount of funding that was requested for them. NASA’s new crewed spacecraft, the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle, Space Launch System (SLS) heavy-lift booster, and Commercial Crew Program will be fully funded. The space agency’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) will be also fully funded. NASA’s next planned rover to Mars, the InSight and Maven missions to the Red Planet, and other planned missions will also move forward. Not all of NASA’s efforts were so fortunate.
NASA’s planetary efforts under this budget request would see cuts of more than $270 million. As NASA currently lacks the ability to launch astronauts on its own, the planetary missions draw the public’s attention the most. Despite this perception, this branch of NASA has seen repeated cuts from the Obama White House.
Other budget-related events surfaced today that contradicted what the NASA Administrator has stated recently.
Bolden had said that he did not think that there would be any U.S.-led crewed missions to the Moon within his lifetime. That was countered today by a bipartisan bill called the RE-asserting American Leadership in Space Act, or REAL Space Act. Under this act, NASA is directed to return to the Moon by 2022—just one year after the first flight of SLS. It is unclear what had initiated this bill. Bolden also stated that NASA might contribute as a “participant” under some other country’s crewed mission to the Moon. This statement appears to be contrary to the views of some within Congress.
“Moon missions, both human and robotic, offer the United States true international cooperation, while ensuring that we lead from the front. Other nations, private industry, and government experts all regard the Moon as the right place for NASA to direct its resources. The time to reassert the United States as the leader in space is now, and the REAL Space Act is the next step,” said Rep. Robert Aderholt, one of the co-signees of the act.
Joining Aderholt were Bill Posey (R-FL), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), Chairman Frank Wolf (R-VA), John Culberson (R-TX), Steve Stockman (R-TX), Pete Olson (R-TX), Rob Bishop (R-UT), and Ted Poe (R-TX).
The act directs NASA to establish a human presence on the Moon, while remaining within budgetary constraints. It is unclear how, given the current economic reality, NASA could accomplish this.
While concerns about the impact of the FY 2014 Budget Request on NASA’s planetary and other initiatives were highlighted, the topic generating the most interest was the 2021 mission to bring an asteroid into lunar orbit.
It was revealed in Aviation Week & Space Technology last month and confirmed today that NASA would receive $100 million for a mission to travel to an asteroid and then tow it back to the Moon. According to Florida Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL), after the asteroid is placed in a stable orbit around the Moon, astronauts would travel to the asteroid using NASA’s new human-rated spacecraft, the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle, powered into space via the SLS.
AmericaSpace followed up on an editorial that we had published earlier this week regarding what would happen if an asteroid were to be selected that could possibly be worth trillions of dollars in minerals. Robinson stated that, while this was something that they were aware of, it will more than likely not be a determining factor in which asteroid is selected.
“I think the president’s directive was built upon a number of things—first and foremost being planetary defense—so we can learn more about these bodies, some of which come into close proximity to the Earth. It is true that there is a space mining community, which is small but developing, that has not be a part of our discussions in terms of selecting the asteroid,” Robinson said. “Obviously we’re looking at all sorts of interests in this asteroid mission in terms of scientific and industrial uses that could come from it, and so I think that we are probably going to take that into account. But I can tell you at this point the mining aspect has not been first and foremost in our thoughts developing the overall asteroid mission itself.”
In summation, SLS, Orion, JWST, and Commercial Crew should not be affected by the FY 2014, but NASA’s planetary missions, astrophysics, and other branches of the space agency will be.
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