July 11, 2013
Credit: Architect of the Capitol
House Republicans shot down a Democratic proposal to boost NASA spending July 10, winding up with a billion-dollar cut in President Barack Obama’s request for the agency in fiscal 2014 and rejecting a call for making a human mission to Mars the U.S. goal in space.
In an extremely unusual party-line vote for the traditionally bipartisan House Science space subcommittee, members voted 12-9 to reject a Democratic bill to reauthorize NASA for three years, starting with an $18.1 billion topline in fiscal 2014.
Instead, on an 11-9 vote, again along party lines, subcommittee lawmakers adopted the Republican version that would authorize $16.9 billion for NASA in the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.
Even as the authorizing subcommittee was meeting, the appropriations subcommittee that sets NASA spending approved a bill cutting Obama’s request from $17.7 billion to $16.6 billion. Both bills will move on to the full Science and Appropriations committees before they are brought up for consideration by the full House.
Despite some partisan wrangling in the Science subcommittee, the Republican measures add funds for commercial crew development above current levels, although not to the $830 million annual level NASA says it needs to meet a 2017 first flight to the International Space Station with a commercial crew vehicle.
The Science subcommittee would authorize $700 million for commercial crew, while the Appropriations subcommittee on commerce, justice and science set aside $787 million for commercial crew and exploration research and development, without specifying how the money should be split.
The authorizing panel also backed away from draft language prohibiting NASA from spending any funds on its proposed asteroid-capture mission, adding a requirement that the agency report on the mission’s cost, milestones and technical needs, and that the NASA Advisory Council and the agency’s Small Bodies Assessment Group both recommend the mission as feasible. “The asteroid retrieval mission has not been through any type of mission formulation review and, as recently as two weeks ago, NASA was still soliciting ideas on how to do the mission without clear direction on its purpose, budget or technical requirements,” said Rep. Steven Palazzo (R-Miss.), the subcommittee chairman.
The Republican bill adopted by Palazzo’s authorizing subcommittee recommended $1.8 billion for the heavy-lift Space Launch System (SLS), and $1.2 billion for the Orion crew capsule that would ride atop it for deep-space NASA missions. However, Rep. Donna Edwards of Maryland, ranking Democrat on the panel, noted that the figure included ground-infrastructure work at Kennedy Space Center that previously was listed separately.
Edwards led the charge for the Democratic bill, which was presented as an amendment substituting for the Republican version. The Democratic version set Mars as a 15-year goal for NASA (Aerospace DAILY, July 10).