Search Penny Hill Press

Friday, August 2, 2013

NASA: Issues for Authorization, Appropriations, and Oversight in the 113th Congress

Daniel Morgan
Specialist in Science and Technology Policy

Spaceflight fascinates and inspires many Americans, but in a time of constrained federal budgets, it must compete with a multitude of other national priorities. As the 113th Congress conducts oversight and considers authorization and appropriations legislation for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), an overarching question is how NASA should move forward within budget constraints.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration Authorization Act of 2010 (P.L. 111-267) set a new direction for NASA’s human spaceflight programs. For access to low Earth orbit, including the International Space Station (ISS), it confirmed NASA’s plans to develop a commercial space transportation capability for both cargo and astronauts. The first commercial cargo flight for ISS resupply was conducted in May 2012. Pending the planned availability of commercial crew transportation in 2017, NASA is paying Russia to carry U.S. astronauts to and from the ISS on Soyuz spacecraft. Issues for Congress include the cost, schedule, and safety of future commercial crew services, as well as the need for alternatives if commercial providers do not succeed.

For human exploration beyond Earth orbit, the 2010 NASA authorization act mandated development of the Orion Multipurpose Crew Vehicle and the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket to launch Orion into space. The first test flight of Orion and the SLS, without a crew, is planned for 2017. The first test flight with a crew is planned for 2021. Issues include the feasibility of accelerating that schedule, the payload mass capability of the SLS in the near and long term, and how Orion and the SLS should be used when operational. NASA plans to send humans to an asteroid by 2025 and to Mars in the 2030s, but some in Congress would prefer to focus on returning humans to the Moon. Orion and the SLS could also be used as a backup option for access to the ISS, but that option raises additional questions about cost and schedule.

U.S. use of the ISS is currently authorized through FY2020. In addition to crew access concerns, Congress is likely to examine the utilization of the ISS for research, both through traditional NASA mechanisms and via the independently managed ISS national laboratory process. Some in Congress may also be interested in further extending the life of the ISS beyond FY2020.

Many in Congress are concerned that the needs of the human spaceflight program may reduce the resources available for NASA’s other activities, including science, aeronautics research, and education programs. Funding for Earth science satellites is particularly contentious, because of their use for climate change research. Proposed cuts in funding for planetary science, following the launch of the Mars Science Laboratory and the anticipated launch in November 2013 of the MAVEN Mars mission, have encountered opposition in both Congress and the scientific community. The explosion of a small asteroid over Chelyabinsk, Russia, in February 2013 may have increased congressional interest in the science and potential threat of near-Earth asteroids and comets. The Administration has proposed a government-wide reorganization of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education programs. NASA programs, including all education programs currently funded by the Science Mission Directorate, account for nearly half of the planned terminations under this proposal.

The Administration’s budget request for FY2014 includes $17.715 billion for NASA, compared with $17.492 billion in FY2013 (before sequestration) and $17.770 billion in FY2012.

Date of Report: July 11, 2013
Number of Pages: 38
Order Number: R43144
Price: $29.95

To Order:

R43144.pdf   to use the SECURE SHOPPING CART


Phone 301-253-0881

For email and phone orders, provide a Visa, MasterCard, American Express, or Discover card number, expiration date, and name on the card. Indicate whether you want e-mail or postal delivery. Phone orders are preferred and receive priority processing.