Space Committee leaders grill NASA on budget, priorities

Led by U.S. Rep. Steven Palazzo (R-MS), the House Subcommittee on Space last week heard from National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Administrator Charles F. Bolden, who answered some tough questions about the agency’s priorities in light of ongoing budget cuts. 

Since 2007, the Obama administration has shifted the focus of NASA, the government agency responsible for space exploration. Under Obama, funding for Earth Science has grown more than 63 percent, while  funding for human space exploration programs has steadily declined. Legislators are concerned about the trend and are seeking answers on the future plans of the world’s leading civilian space organization.

“NASA is at a crossroads,” Palazzo said. “Unfortunately, the last six years featured drastic change with the cancellation of Constellation and uncertain direction with the president’s ever-changing asteroid initiative. Congress has been consistent in its guidance to NASA that it develop a long-term sustainable exploration strategy that is evolvable and flexible based on an uncertain budget environment. Recent announcements from NASA indicate that the agency is heeding that direction by working toward an architecture that can weather the storms of change that accompany new administrations. Administrator Bolden and his leadership team have a tough job.”

President Obama’s fiscal year 2016 budget request of $18.53 billion included an increase of $519 million for NASA; however, the president’s proposal still underfunds the Space Launch System and Orion programs, both critical for deep-space missions to Mars, widely known as the next phase of space exploration. The proposed budget undercuts the programs’ funding by nearly $400 million.

“While there are some areas of agreement between the committee and the administration in this budget, the president’s request regrettably changes agreed-upon national priorities,” Lamar Smith (R-TX), chairman of the Committee on Science, Space and Technology, said. “The Obama administration seems to have forgotten NASA’s priorities – and the main one is space exploration. There is a lack of balance in the overall science account request. One of the most glaring examples is the disproportionate increase in the Earth Science Division that it receives at the expense of other science divisions, and human and robotic space exploration. There are 13 other agencies involved in climate change research, but only one that is responsible for space exploration. The administration continues to starve NASA’s exploration programs to fund a partisan environmental agenda. NASA simply deserves better.”