The 2015 NASA Budget

Since 2010, the Obama Administration’s proposed annual NASA budget for human spaceflight (HSF) has been rejected by Congress. The Administration’s proposed fiscal year 2015 NASA budget[1], announced today, will likely meet the same fate.

Past proposed NASA HSF budgets by the Obama Administration, specifically the 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014 budgets, died in large part because Congress was unwilling to accept proposed cuts to NASA’s human spaceflight programs, specifically the Orion and Space Launch System programs, in favor of a larger Commercial Crew program budget. Given that history, Congress will surely be surprised by the Administration’s proposal to dramatically increase the Commercial Crew program budget from $696 million to nearly $1.1 billion while cutting the Orion and SLS programs by 7 percent.

Appropriated FY 2011 Budet FY 2012 FY 2013 FY 2014 FY 2015 Prev Yr Change
Exploration $3,821.2 $3,770.8 $3,887.0 4,113.2 3,976.0[2] 3.3%
Orion $1,120.0 $1,200.0 $1,200.3 $1,197.0 $1,070.0 –10.0%
SLS $1,631.0 $1,860.0 $1,454.2 $1,600.0 $1,430.0 –10.0%
Commercial Crew $225.0 406.0 525.0 $696.0 $848.3 +22.0%
Exploration R&D $232.3 $304.8 $308.0 $302.0 $343.4 +13.0%

The above proposed budget numbers are, however, a bit misleading. For fiscal year 2015, the Administration is proposing additional funds under its Opportunity, Growth, and Security Initiative, or OGS. The Administration requests that the Exploration budget get an increase of $350 million under OGS. However, 2/3 of that will go to the Commercial Crew program, raising that program’s budget to around $1.1 billion, while the balance will go to the ESD budget. Taking OGS funding increases into account, the above budget numbers change as follows.

Appropriated FY 2011 Budet FY 2012 FY 2013 FY 2014 FY 2015 Prev Yr Change
Exploration $3,821.2 $3,770.8 $3,887.0 4,113.2 4,326.0 3.3%
Orion $1,120.0 $1,200.0 $1,200.3 $1,197.0 $1,108.0 –7.0%
SLS $1,631.0 $1,860.0 $1,454.2 $1,600.0 $1,482.0 –7.0%
Commercial Crew $225.0 406.0 525.0 $696.0 $1,100.0 +58.0.0%
Exploration R&D $232.3 $304.8 $308.0 $302.0 $343.4 +13.0%

As unlikely as it is that the House Appropriations Committee would go along with the decrease in funding for the Orion and SLS programs, thus delaying those programs, it is all but certain that the proposed FY 2015 NASA Exploration budget is dead-on-arrival with a 22 percent increase to $848 million or 58 percent increase to $1.1 billion—take your pick—in funding for Commercial Crew.

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  1. Presentation By NASA CFO Beth Robinson  ↩
  2. NASA did not provide budget estimates for the Orion and SLS programs while it did so for Commercial Crew and Exploration R&D. The numbers for the Orion and SLS programs included in this chart are estimates based on the total Exploration Systems Development (ESD).  ↩


  1. It’s hard to believe that the White House thought such budgetary nonsense would actually fly. Maybe it was a “Let’s throw all of this at the wall and see what sticks” approach. What a way to run a program of space exploration. With the stalwart opposition by Congress to the destruction of SLS/Orion and our human spaceflight program, this budget is the White House equivalent of holding it’s breath, shaking it’s fists, and stamping it’s feet to get it’s way. Glad to see this preposterous mess will be DOA!

    • Hey Karol,

      Before NASA CFO Robinson had even finished her presentation, House Approps Chair Rogers said the NASA budget was DOA. If there’s any good news for the Obama Administration, it’s that Roger’s comment saved the President of being publicly told the same by his own Party in the Senate.

      I think everyone has given-up trying to figure out how this Administration comes up with its NASA HSF budget. It isn’t as though Congress has been coy about what it will and will not support in HSF funding. Yet the Administration remains unable to get the message. My guess is that nobody at the White House cares at all about space so the budget we see is the product of one individual, OMB’s Paul Shawcross. And based on what I’ve been told, he’s as bullheaded as they come. So, we can expect this show until 2017.

  2. “Congress was unwilling to accept proposed cuts to NASA’s human spaceflight programs, specifically the Orion and Space Launch System programs, in favor of a larger Commercial Crew program budget.”

    Apparently, NASA’s human spaceflight programs don’t include commercial crew. Funny. Very funny. But typical.

    Rogers said NASA’s budget is DOA. Where did you find that? Any citation?

    Budgets are ways for the administration and Congress to set out their priorities. Not everything survives the subsequent negotiations. That should be obvious to anyone who watches what happens in DC. In fact, the NASA budget has been a lot closer to the Administration and Senate versions than anything coming out of the House in recent eyars.

    • Yeah, who would have guessed that Commercial Crew isn’t a part of HSF, but with the current Administration, that seems to be the case.

      Here’s an article from Marcia Smith’s with a link to House Appropriations Chair Roger’s comment.

      While there has been much commonality between the White House and Congress in NASA’s science, aeronautics, cross-agency support, and education budgets, the bone of contention remains human spaceflight. That section of the President’s budget has been for the last four years, and is again, DOA in both the House and Senate. Congress is paying to go to the Moon while the White House seems focused on LEO.

      • That appears to be a general comment on the budget as a whole, not anything specific to NASA.

        Commercial crew not being part of HSF seems to be largely in your head. Nobody else seems to have a problem grasping the connection.

        Perhaps Congress will finally see the light on commercial crew with the Ukrainian crisis and the clear exposure of our reliance for access upon Mr. Putin’s good will to a station we primarily built. We would be years closer to flying commercial crews to ISS if not for Congress prioritizing SLS and Orion. We need our own access to the station, and we needed it yesterday.

        Congress isn’t paying for the moon. It’s paying for a massive launch vehicle and expensive deep spacecraft. Nothing else we need to actually get to the moon is possible under the budget.

        • Well, after talking to Capitol Hill staffers, they too are suffering the same head issues I am. At least I’m in good company.

          Rather than talk about what Congress will or will not pay for, let’s review what Congress has done since 2010 on space funding.

          Congress has, on its own and despite both opposition from the Administration and aggressive delaying tactics on the SLS and Orion programs from NASA, appropriated those amounts needed to keep both Orion and SLS on track. And just as it’s done since 2010, Congress is going to do what it wants on HSF, which is fund Orion and SLS fully.

          What Congress sees is not a justification for Commercial Crew. Far from it. Congressional staffers are well aware of the true progress of that program and no, none of those players are getting us to ISS anytime soon. That’s largely NASA’s fault since Congress has informed it that the CCP program needed to down-selected years ago to better focus limited resources for faster progress. But NASA’s leadership didn’t do that for political reasons. Loose Boeing and CCP looses luster and respectability. Loose Sierra Nevada and we working on three capsule programs. And if you want to make engineers working in GN&C or ELSS laugh, tell them that one of the CCP companies will be flying crews by 2016. Guffaws galore.

          And those in Congress specializing in space are well aware that, had getting independent access to ISS for our nation really been Job #1 for NASA’s leadership, then the Administration would have approved Boeing’s proposal for the X-37B follow-on, the 5 crew X-37C. We are talking about a dependable spacecraft that can sit in orbit for over a year and NASA said no to making it a crewed vehicle. Why?

          What Congress does see is that if we had not gone through the nonsense of 2010, we would be much closer to our own capability to launch crews to ISS than we are today. Instead, Neil Armstrong was right–the Administration changed our nation’s HSF course in secret, without consultation, and mucked things up.

          When it comes to the Moon, Congress is funding $3.5B annually on the DDTE for Orion and SLS. Anything else will have to wait for a new Administration as there is zero trust right now in Congress of anything the White House or NASA HQ are selling about human spaceflight.

          • Oh, you skipped the issue of whether Congress will realize that depending upon Putin for one day longer than we have to for ISS access is a good idea.

            It’s not. It’s a bad idea even if Putin wasn’t running things.

            We’re not going to suddenly start funding human capabilities for the X-37.

            So, we’ve got a problem. The question is whether Congress (well, mostly the Republicants) can set aside its rage at the Administration and do what’s best for NASA, the space program and the nation.

            Based on your response, I think that’s a No.

            • I don’t think you are forgetting history. Because the Administration hit the Reset button on our nation’s space program in 2010, we have no options. This is not the fault of Congress but of the Administration. And if you remember the history of the 2010 debate, the President’s NASA Reset was rejected by a large majority in the Democratic-led House and by unanimous consent in the Democratic-led Senate. Space is one of the few bipartisan programs, not an R’s vs D’s here.

              • The commercial crew program will end our dependence on the Russians.

                Congress’ refusal to fully fund it has delayed the date that will happen by years.

                The result is longer dependence on Vladimir Putin and the subsidizing of the Russian space program and under utilization of ISS.

                Instead of owning its role in this delay, Congress and its allies seem determined to keep repeating its mistake and blaming the Administration for all the problems.

                This approach makes no logical sense. It born more out of anger and rage at the Administration for cancelling Constellation than any sort of rational analysis of the facts.

                It’s very typical when someone gets really anger about something, they don’t think clearly. This makes no sense.

                • Even if you dumped billions into CCP, none would be able to launch crews for 2-3 years. You can’t push their technology much faster any more than you can push a string. The battle of 2010 really hit the pause button on our domestic HSF capabilities and it will take time for that to work out.

                  • Well, yes. Consistent Congressional reductions in the budget requests have slipped the schedule by years. The choice now is now between “dumping” billions into the program but rather funding it properly so as to not make the situation worse and extending our dependence on the Russians.

                    That’s the sad reality that Congressional opposition to this program has created. It’s a good program, but it can’t work if people don’t deal with the reality of the present instead of being stuck back in 2010.

  3. I for one feel we should put Orion/SLS on track it makes me uncomfortable putting all this trust and money in companies that are for profit and beholding to their stockholders. NASA even with it’s flaws has given back more on it’s investment than any other government agency. As for the Russians, this mess over there just proves Washington’s own shortsightedness with the Russians, we should have never put ourselves in this position. SLS/Orion can give America what it needs, a system we as a nation can rely on, bring the commercial guys along for the ride but they need to prove themselves on their dime not the American taxpayer.

  4. The compromise seems rather one sided. Congress gets want it wants on Orion and SLS, with full funding for something that won’t fly until 2021 with a crew. Meanwhile, commercial crew — which we need now — limps along on incomplete funding, causing schedules to slip and crucial things like life support development to be delayed. Meanwhile, we’re sending upwards to a billion dollars to Vlad the Putin to pay for crew services instead of spending the money here. And we don’t have full access to ISS, a facility we primarily built.

    You sure you consider yourself to be in “good company” with the Congressional staffer that came up with that wacky plan. It’s up to you, but that sounds a bit crazy. This is one of the reasons Congress’ approval rating is at about 13 percent.

    • Yes, I consider Congressional staffers to be excellent company.

      We should never forget that it was the Obama folks at NASA, not Congress, who damaged our nation’s human spaceflight program and slowed this nation’s march towards space.

      As for Orion not flying before 2021, that’s another little tidbit thanks to this NASA. Every year, Orion and SLS only get about around 85% of their funding with the rest going to NASA HQ for termination liability. Naturally, Commercial Crew gets all of its. For FY 2013 the amount held in suspense for Orion was $226 million and for SLS $192 million. Mind you, the Administration has said it cannot legally terminate a “program of record”, so one is left wondering by what Logic NASA needs to withhold termination liability funding for these two programs of record. The House has a bill, HR 3625, that would free-up that money. Guess who is opposing it? Frankly, we should all be impressed that these programs are doing as well as they are given the nonsense that NASA’s past leadership made them wade through.

      If the Administration was really serious about space, they’d be fighting to increase funding for both Orion/SLS and Commercial Space. Instead, what we have is a proposed cut to Orion and SLS and a +50% increase to the Commercial Crew program. That’s not serious.

      Or another idea—focus Commercial Crew funding by down-selecting SpaceX and Boeing and directing all funds to Sierra Nevada’s Dream Chaser. With their current contracts both SpaceX and Boeing have enough gov’t largess. Such focused funding could get the innovative Dream Chaser in orbit by 2017 or maybe earlier.

  5. You see your right on one point about Congress approval rating they can’t seem to get anything going in the right direction, this is the reason we find ourselves in the position of using the Russians. We should have never let the shuttle go until a follow on was ready. Don’t say we can’t afford it either, NASA has been for 50 years an engine in the economy. I also hate the fact they are dragging out a crewed flight until 2021, the shuttle never had test flights, and many of the early stuff were converted weapons of war. It’s a shame we don’t seem to have the right stuff anymore. I have spoken to many NASA engineers and chiefs and astronauts over the many decades they seem to feel the same as I, this great nation needs to do great things. Moon , Mars and beyond. As for my earlier statement about business and their stockholders, this government has gone down this road before and it took decades to repair the damage, looking at todays economic climate and businesses hand in it’s demise, still makes me nervous to put it all in their hands. We need to pick up the pace on proven legacy systems and develop the future spacecraft for the complicated stuff. I spoke to Gunther Wendth before he passed few years ago he told me one of the problems is “They want to make it harder than it really is, the launch vehicle should be cheap, simple , proven with the tonnage ability, the spacecraft is what needs to be complex for you see it will be what’s tasked to perform in the confines of space.” I hope somebody gets it right soon so we can get back into the game instead of sitting on the sidelines this is getting embarrassing..

  6. Jim, I follow your comments with great interest, both in this thread and on the IM Congressional hearing. It’s really a pleasure to see that you’re one of the voices of reason nowadays, concerning the space program. So very well said..

    It’s so disheartening to watch all this in-fighting within the space community. I long for the days when reason will have prevailed and all the nonsense that we’re going through today, will be looked upon as a strange abnormality.

    • The space infighting is bad.

      I think the largest source of this fighting was that those in the Obama Administration who sought to bring commercial crew to the fore chose to sacrifice NASA HSF program, in essence putting commercial space, which gets pretty much all of its funding from NASA HSF budget, in the position of “biting the hand that feeds it.” That started a war that is nowhere near ending anytime soon.

      The Obama space people say that trying to increase NASA’s budget in 2010 and forward wasn’t realistic. I fault them for not even trying, ever. Instead of making the pie bigger, the Obama space people chose to start a budget war, the bad blood of which will last for years. That was short-sighted in the extreme.

      A positive message about growing space capabilities through the addition of commercial crew in conjunction with our national human spaceflight program will I hope be something that a future Administration will pursue. To do that means a change in language for everyone. Gone should be all of the unsubstantiated talk about how Orion and SLS are too expensive ($3.7B annually, or 1/2 of 1% of our Defense budget, spent on those programs is too expensive for the US?), will never fly, aren’t needed, etc.. Gone should be the constant rhetoric that the commercial space companies are a bunch of parasites, amateurs who don’t know what they are doing and have no future. Both sides should be praising the heck out of each other in particular and the space program in general. Do that for awhile and I’ll bet Congress will be willing to spend more money to grow the nascent space market into something that will get us to the Moon and beyond and build a business that can profitably support that.

  7. Those in Congress who want to increase funding to the commercial crew program to accelerate its launch only have to ask one question of those on the other side, “Oh, so you think it is GOOD thing for the U.S. to be beholden to Putin for space access?”

    Bob Clark

    • Those in Congress who command the space budget know full-well that, had we not had the policy train-wreck put forward by the Administration’s space people in 2010, we’d be within a year of returning to LEO.

      I don’t think you appreciate what a colossal policy and political screw-up the 2010 Space Plan was. It’s only usefulness today is that it serves for policy-makers as a template for what not to do. Don’t form a national policy in secret by a small group of non-experts and non-industry-professionals and then subsequently spring it on stake-holders and expect everyone to be amazed by your handicraft. They were not.

      I don’t think you appreciate just how bad a policy has to be to wake Congress up and fight the inertia for that body to go along. But the Obama Administration managed to do just that while, in a historical first, have NASA subpoenaed, and about to cite the Agency’s leadership for contempt putting AG Holder in a very tough spot, all by a Senate controlled by the Administration’s own Party. That is truly remarkable!

    • The Russians are highly dependent upon the Americans not only financially in terms providing launch services to the ISS, but in day to day operations of the ISS, power, etc. The relationship is interdependent across the board, and the Russians realize that they cannot function effectively alone. Imagine ISS operations without American participation – not very likely. And honestly, did anyone actually expect the Russians to quietly sit by while the Ukraine joined the unstable European Union, possibly handing their Black Sea port at Sevastopol over to NATO? How would we respond if a group hostile to the USA seized control in Mexico, placing an area of strategic importance to us in danger of being handed over to the Chinese? The Putin issue is a non-starter. The Russians can’t afford to interfere with ISS operations as they are, but the “Reds under our beds” menace was sure to be seized upon by “more subsidy for CommSpace crowd.

    • That’s a practical question for 2014. Anytime you raise it, Jim will respond by trying to re-fight the policy battles of 2010. It indicates the lack of a coherent response to problems of today.

      • So, everyone, Will is obviously not Will Rogers. He’s a troll. Despite our comment rules requiring a valid email address, he didn’t.

        So Will’s banned until he emails me a real email address.


    • A very well written and insightful article by Dennis Wingo, Jim. Regarding SLS, he mentions that since the first SLS flights will use an Interim Delta IV Cryogenic stage, the rocket will in essence greatly underperform, lacking the boost needed by an evolved upper stage, work on which will not start by the late 2020’s. With the Delta IV upper stage currently being used, Wingo mentions that SLS will not have a payload capability greater than a Delta IV Heavy.

      We had reported in the past about Boeing’s proposal to affordably develop and use a new SLS upper stage, right from the start of SLS’s operations. Any news about that?

      • I’ve heard that, although Boeing had made a proposal for a more advanced cryo-stage, NASA wasn’t exactly moving heaven and earth. I don’t know why. But I will look into that.

        In any case, Wingo is roughly correct. SLS Block 1A will start with a 70 mt mean LEO payload capability. Without that cryo-stage, SLS and Falcon Heavy suffer from the same problem that they can’t push to far-off destination more mass than a Delta IV Heavy (RS-68A).

    • Thanks for the link. I like the fact that Wingo supports both commercial space and the SLS, as I do.

      Bob Clark

    • I think it’s a case of the cliché that he’s making lemonade out of lemons.

      In his article, Dennis Wingo recognizes that Congress and the White House are not going to change their tune on human spaceflight, meaning that the status quo will remain through fiscal year 2018, which begins Oct. 1, 2017 (provided Congress passes NASA’s budget on time, and yes, I can hear many of you laughing over my own laughter).

      We are going to get Commercial Space. And it may very well be disruptive to the rest of the space industry. And we are getting Orion and SLS. And they may very well be disruptive to our stagnant desire to reach beyond low-Earth orbit. But what there is no doubt of is that neither is going to be defunded. And in my opinion they shouldn’t be.

      His is a thoughtful piece that will, I hope, cause many in the currently battling factions to reconsider their positions. And maybe, just maybe, the two sides will start to work together to best make use of the capabilities that will be coming online in the next few years.

  8. Jim,

    My lack of posting on these threads is not agreement. It is that our views on hardware, risk analysis, and contracting methods are different enough to prevent fully civil discussion of the alternatives.

    IMO for instance. If the situation were critical enough, astronauts could ride to ISS on a Dragon within a month at less risk than was considered acceptable in the 1960s even without launch escape and long term life support capabilities. Boeing and Sierra Nevada could match that capability by next year. I would not expect you to agree, and certainly see no rational reason to waste our nerves and time trying to change that.

    • The notion that astronauts could now ride a Dragon to orbit is false. Here are just a few things Dragon needs but doesn’t have:

      1) Launch abort system
      2) GNC that is marginally crew rated. If you’re an engineer with even a brief background in GNC or just G&C, this is like a, “Duh!” statement.
      3) Environmental life support system. It’s hard to breath in a vacuum.
      4) Crew couches. That will hold together during launch.

      I could go on, but you can see why Dragon is only able to carry cargo now.

      • Jim,

        In a critical enough situation, couches from the quickest available supplier would be bolted in. Launch escape and GNC would be waved for the already demonstrated berthing capabilities. Life support for the fast transit of sub 24 hours could be cobbled from existing aircraft components in days.

        Falcon is possibly, with Atlas and Delta definitely more reliable than the 1960s equipment that launched Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo by demonstrated track record.

        Repeating that this would only be even considered in a very critical situation, not as a recommendation for normal use. Repeating also that I don’t expect agreement.

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