NASA is planning its first test launch of the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle, which will eventually carry humans into deep space, in 2014 // NASA
On April 10, NASA unveiled the budget it is requesting from the federal government in fiscal year 2014. The final number — $17.7 billion — is much higher than the average household income but is less than half a percent of the federal money-spending total in 2013. NASA has big plans for these billions and billions
The big news is that the agency, under direction from President Obama, plans to acquire an asteroid, bring it closer to Earth, send astronauts to it by 2025, and have them bring samples back. While 2025 is a while from 2014, the planning and preparation are to start immediately, with $105 million of the total budget going toward preparations for this mission. The president and NASA hope that capturing and crawling around a space rock will prepare the country to send people to Mars in 2030.
NASA also will generously fund the Space Launch System (SLS) and the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (Orion MPCV), its content delivery mechanisms for sending human contents to deep space. These are aiming for initial test launches in 2017 and 2014, respectively, with humans hopping aboard in 2021. NASA plans to revamp Kennedy Space Center’s launch and control facilities so that these complicated vehicles can do more than sit on a concrete pad.
The budget also includes money for maintaining NASA’s efforts and presence on the International Space Station, an initiative that includes commercial spaceflight (a category that received $821 million of the funds).
“Exploration Research and Design,” which weighs in at $364 million, will investigate the technological and logistical aspects of sending all these people into space and asking them to complete tasks.
NASA divides its $17.7 billion budget into nine categories. Click to enlarge. // NASA/Astronomy: Sarah Scoles
In short, human exploration features prominently after an era that witnessed and mourned the demise of the country’s ability to shoot people out of the atmosphere.
NASA requested a total of $5 billion for science research funding, an amount comparable to the 2012 and 2013 numbers. However, the allocations within science will shift a bit. Planetary science and astrophysics will be shortchanged, dropping around $300 million and $6 million, respectively. Most of that freed-up money doesn’t just disappear, though — some will go to solar research and observatories, and some will help us learn more about Earth through satellites like Landsat. But NASA will channel a lot of its science dough toward the completion of the James Webb Space Telescope. Emotions run high around James Webb’s $140 million increase between 2012 and 2014, since the telescope, considered Hubble’s successor, is years behind schedule and massively over budget.
The agency plans to continue work on the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) mission, to launch in 2020. Another rover, to work on Curiosity’s unfinished business, also will launch that year.
NASA’s vast and sprawling education program “will be fundamentally restructured into a consolidated education program funded through the Office of Education, which will use competitive processes to fund the best education and public outreach programs within NASA and will coordinate closely with the Department of Education, the National Science Foundation, and the Smithsonian Institution to broaden the reach of NASA’s capability to inspire and educate.” In other words, NASA will not directly fund or control its education programs … whose funding also will drop by 31 percent between 2012 and 2014.
All of these numbers, of course, are just suggestions, and Congress could completely change them and make this blog post moot.
Regardless of the actual numbers, though, it seems that the United States’ aeronautics and space organization is shifting its emphasis, focusing on the human and exploratory aspects of its mission while still trying to maintain its purer-science clout.
To see the full budget, Administrator Charles Bolden’s presentation, and agency commentary, visit http://www.nasa.gov/news/budget/index.html.