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FYI Number 117: October 21, 2002

House Appropriators Would Increase Funding for NASA Science Programs

House appropriators completed their version of the FY 2003 VA/HUD funding bill (H.R. 5605) on October 9. This bill would increase NASA's budget by 2.7 percent over FY 2002. According to the committee's report, Human Space Flight funding would fall by 11.3 percent, while the Science, Aeronautics and Technology budget would grow by 15.9 percent. Within the SAT category, it appears that Space Science, Earth Science, and Biological and Physical Research would all see healthy increases. By comparison, the Senate bill, completed in July, would provide increases of 2.0 percent for NASA and 12.4 percent for Science, Aeronautics and Technology.

The next step would normally be a vote by the full House on H.R. 5605, and then a House-Senate conference to reconcile the differing versions of the bill. Members of Congress are not expected to return to continue work on the appropriations bills until sometime after the November 5 elections. The latest (and sixth so far) continuing resolution to keep government programs funded will run until November 22. With so many spending bills yet to be finalized, it is unclear when, or how, the FY 2003 appropriations process will end.

The committee report provides details on the House committee's actions. Selected portions of the report are quoted below. The entire report (H. Rpt. 107-740) can be viewed at http://thomas.loc.gov/ and FYI #91 provides details of the Senate version.

HUMAN SPACE FLIGHT:

"The Committee recommends a total of $6,130,900,000 for the human space flight account in fiscal year 2003." According to the report, this is identical to the budget request and 11.3 percent less than FY 2002 funding of $6,912.4 million.

This section of the report contains no specific language on the International Space Station.

SCIENCE, AERONAUTICS AND TECHNOLOGY:

"The Committee recommends $9,144,500,000 for Science, Aeronautics and Technology in fiscal year 2003. The amount recommended is an increase of $300,000,000 to the budget request" and 15.9 percent over the fiscal year 2002 appropriation.

According to the report, "This appropriation provides for the research and development activities of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. These activities include: space science, life and microgravity science, earth sciences, aero-space technology, advanced concepts and technology, space operations, and academic programs. Funds are also included for the construction, maintenance, and operation of programmatic facilities."

Unlike the Senate committee report, the House report provides specific funding levels for the Offices of Space Science, Earth Science, and Biological and Physical Research.

SPACE SCIENCE:

"Within the Space Science portion of this account, the Committee recommends $3,556,200,000, a net increase of $141,900,000 to the budget request." This is an increase of 24.8 percent over the FY 2002 budget.

The report notes that "The Committee is supportive of the New Frontiers Program as a competitive process to undertake missions to the outer planets. The Committee is concerned that the New Frontiers Program as proposed by NASA may be unduly constrained by a uniform cap on mission costs of $650 million. Since the purpose of the program is to undertake scientifically valuable missions, the cap should not limit the mission options being considered. The Committee supports New Frontiers with a flexible cap for each new opportunity ($500 million to $1 billion in fiscal year 2002 dollars) prior to open competition, giving due consideration to specified scientific objectives."

Of the "adjustments" made to the budget request, the committee would provide an increase of $105.0 million for the Kuiper Belt/Pluto mission and an increase of $19.9 million for the Mars program "to cover recent cost increases." The Nuclear Electric Propulsion program and the Nuclear Power System program would be reduced by $10.0 million and $7.0 million, respectively, from the request.

An additional $40.0 million over the request would be provided for the Europa mission. "In light of the high priority by the National Academy decadal study for a Europa Orbiter Mission and the public support for Europa exploration as indicated by the recent survey of the Planetary Society," the report says, "the Committee directs NASA to conduct a focused technology program and begin Phase A activities to ensure that this mission is ready at the earliest possible opportunity and that NASA preserves its core capabilities to implement and manage such a mission at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The Committee recommendation includes $30,000,000 for this activity and an additional $10,000,000 for instrument technology. The Committee is aware that JPL has an relationships with research universities on its outer planetary programs and anticipates that a majority of the $10,000,000 million will be expended solidifying those relationships."

An increase of $7.5 million over the request would be provided "for development of a lightweight carrier pallet to support the Hubble Space Telescope program. The recent success of the Hubble servicing mission has underscored the continued importance of the Hubble Space Telescope. NASA's plan for HST has been to discontinue servicing missions after 2004 in order to create a funding wedge for the next generation space telescope (NGST), the community's highest priority, and to return HST to earth in 2010. Although this scenario creates an important funding wedge, it also leads to a significant probability that HST will degrade over the intervening six-year period and become inoperable well before 2010. This gap may be so long that HST archival data alone may not sustain a productive scientific community. The Committee directs that NASA carry out an in-depth study of possible alternatives to the 2010 return mission that would increase the probability of operating HST until NGST becomes available. This study should address the possibility of an additional servicing mission, SM5, and as an alternative, a final servicing mission in 2007 in lieu of the 2010 mission that would include a means of disposing of HST other than by Shuttle return. This study should address the relative costs of such scenarios, the potential scientific benefits, and the mission constraints that will need to be considered for the 2010 return mission."

EARTH SCIENCE:

"Within the Earth Sciences portion of this account, the Committee recommends $1,675,000,000, a net increase of $46,600,000 to the budget request." This is a 6.5 percent increase over FY 2002 funding.

The report states, "The fiscal year 2002 appropriations bill and accompanying reports gave NASA Congressional direction to establish an implementation plan for Earth science applications partnerships. NASA completed the report on its implementation plan in June of 2002 and forwarded the report to the Committee for its review. The Committee has reviewed the report and finds that it offers a good basis on which to build a credible program utilizing remote sensing data from the Earth Observing System. Accordingly, the Committee recommendations do not include any funding for new remote sensing applications centers, but urges NASA to follow through with its implementation plan which calls for a widely competed program."

BIOLOGICAL AND PHYSICAL RESEARCH:

"Within the Biological and Physical Research portion of this account, the Committee recommends $854,200,000, a net increase of $11,900,000 to the budget request." This is an increase of 19.6 percent over the FY 2002 level.

"The Committee," the report says, "remains committed to a healthy and productive Materials Science research program. This program has undergone multiple reviews by the National Research Council. It has also produced a backlog of well-respected investigators whose experiments have undergone multiple peer reviews, certifying that they will provide useful scientific returns that can only be obtained in the microgravity environment of space.

"The Committee is concerned that recent changes to the Materials Science program have jeopardized the ability of the International Space Station to support a robust materials science research program. Therefore, the Committee expects NASA to maintain its commitment to a healthy materials research program, which at a minimum includes the timely completion of the Materials Science Research Rack - 1, its experiment modules and module inserts, and the planned, peer-reviewed materials investigations that were to utilize this facility."

Among the adjustments to the budget request, the committee would cut $11.2 million "from the Generations program. The Committee recognizes the value of the research being proposed through the Generations program, but finds the program too unaffordable at this time given shortages in funding for equipment for the International Space Station." An increase of $8.0 million is provided "for procurement of animal and plant habitats for the international space station."

ACADEMIC PROGRAMS:

"Within the Academic Programs portion of this account, the Committee recommends $178,950,000 an increase of $35,250,000 to the budget request."

"The Committee has serious concerns that too few students are pursuing advanced degrees in aerospace science and engineering, with a result that the Nation's future in the utilization and exploration of space will be compromised.... NASA, with its longstanding support of university-based research, is in a unique position to ensure that the university research base, and the educational opportunities that accompany it, are sufficient to the Nation's needs." NASA is directed to work with research universities to develop a plan to increase "the number of students pursuing advanced degrees in the presence of vibrant university research efforts. The plan should include means to increase the number of university research and educational groups, to increase the number of new, young faculty; to build cooperative relationships between universities and NASA centers; and means for attracting and supporting students. The plan should be submitted to the Committee by March 15, 2003 and will serve as the basis for consideration of the fiscal year 2004 NASA budget.

"The Committee encourages NASA to develop closer working relationships with universities in regions adjacent to national laboratories. National laboratories have assets and capabilities that are important to graduate student support and collaborations with regional universities."

Among its changes to the budget request, the committee would provide an additional $5.4 million for the EPSCoR program to bring its budget up to the FY 2002 level of $10.0 million. An increase of $5.0 million for the National Space Grant College and Fellowship program would fund this program at the FY 2002 level of $24.1 million. "By this action, the Committee has funded the core programs of the 52 consortia, including some modest upgrades. NASA is encouraged to use these consortia to continue workforce development initiative to attract and retain educated, skilled diverse employees for [NASA] and aerospace industries. It is imperative that NASA encourage additional young people to pursue careers in science and engineering and these consortia are on the front lines for this effort."

Audrey T. Leath
Media and Government Relations Division
American Institute of Physics
fyi@aip.org
(301) 209-3094

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