HOUSTON — NASA anticipates a slightly smaller civil servant workforce, facility consolidations and less spending on consultants as the agency begins to focus on an ambitious effort to identify, retrieve and corral a small asteroid into a stable lunar orbit for exploration by astronauts, according to the agency’s proposed 2014 budget.
The asteroid-capture strategy, subject to Congressional scrutiny, depends on an overall return to pre-sequester spending of $17.7 billion agency-wide for the fiscal year starting Oct. 1, funding that would be distributed across 10 field centers in eight states and the District of Columbia.
The agency’s goal is a civil servant workforce of 17,700, a decline of about 275 and a target NASA plans to achieve with selective buyouts that will permit it to continue some hiring of young engineers, scientists and other specialists. NASA’s flight-eligible astronaut corps, for instance, is expected to rise from 50 men and women with 9-12 new hires.
NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, which manages International Space Station operations and leads development of the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle, would be the top recipient of 2014 funding among the centers with $4.5 billion. Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, which manages NASA’s Earth observations and astrophysics programs, and the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, which is upgrading its launch complex for human deep-space missions, would follow with $3 billion and $2.3 billion, respectively. The Stennis Space Center in Mississippi, which hosts much of the agency’s propulsion testing, would receive the least, $182 million.
Personnel declines would be distributed evenly. Goddard would continue to have the most NASA civil servants, 3,331, a decline of just five. Johnson, which has been in a post-shuttle decline, would fall by 53 to 3,098, second within the agency. Stennis, the center with the fewest civil servants, would fall by five to 313.
Despite protests from Houston-area lawmakers, NASA intends to complete the closing of Johnson’s arc jet facility, a high-temperature lab for evaluating heat shielding under a range of atmospheric re-entry conditions. Consolidation of arc jet testing at Ames Research Center is already underway and expected to save an estimated $5 million annually.
The agency is taking the same approach with its thermal vacuum chamber test facilities. Johnson’s big Chamber A has been upgraded for pre-launch testing of the James Webb Space Telescope. Four less-capable chambers at Kennedy, the Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama, and Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, will be closed, leaving active test chambers at the Glenn Research Center in Ohio, Goddard and Johnson. As with the arc jet, NASA’s thermal vacuum chambers will be available to other federal agencies and commercial users.
One area in which NASA does not intend to resume pre-sequester spending levels is in the use of consultants. Spending on outside experts declined from $749 million in 2012 to an estimated $670 million this year, a level the agency plans to maintain in 2014.