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House & Senate Appropriators Look To Cut NASA Funding

House and Senate appropriators have introduced spending bills that would allocate slightly less funding to NASA in 2024 compared to the previous year, rather than the significant increase sought by the administration.

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Zac Aubert

Zac Aubert

Fri Jul 14 2023Written by Zac Aubert

House and Senate appropriators have introduced spending bills that would allocate slightly less funding to NASA in 2024 compared to the previous year, rather than the significant increase sought by the administration.

The Senate Appropriations Committee recently approved a commerce, justice, and science (CJS) spending bill for fiscal year 2024 during a markup session held on July 13. The bill encompasses various agencies, including NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the National Science Foundation (NSF).

Although the full details of the bill and accompanying report have not been released as of July 14, a committee summary revealed that it proposes $25.0 billion for NASA. This amount is lower than the $25.384 billion allotted to the agency in fiscal year 2023 and significantly below the administration's request of $27.185 billion for 2024.

While the summary did not provide a comprehensive breakdown of NASA's funding within the bill, it indicated that the agency's exploration programs would receive $7.74 billion. Although this falls short of the $7.97 billion requested for 2024, it surpasses the $7.47 billion allocated to these programs in 2023.

The summary assured that adequate funding would be provided for Orion, the Space Launch System, and ground systems, as well as for the continuation of progress on the Artemis Campaign Development, which includes the Human Landing System awards granted to SpaceX and Blue Origin.

During the markup, senators emphasized that exploration remained their highest priority. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), the chair of the CJS appropriations subcommittee, stated that the bill supports NASA's efforts to return astronauts to the moon, including the first woman and person of color, while maintaining U.S. leadership in space. Senator Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), ranking member of the CJS subcommittee, stressed the importance of safeguarding NASA's key national priority of lunar exploration and preserving the nation's strategic advantage in space.

The bill also indicated that NASA's Earth science, astrophysics, and heliophysics divisions would be funded at or slightly above 2023 levels. Notably, the proposed $54 million cut for heliophysics in the 2024 budget request would be restored.

Regarding planetary science, a circulating draft of report language revealed concerns among Senate appropriators regarding the status of the Mars Sample Return (MSR) mission. The draft allocated only $300 million for MSR, less than a third of the requested $949.3 million. Delays and potential fiscal impacts on other NASA science programs were cited as reasons for this reduction. Additionally, the draft directed NASA to present a cost estimate for MSR within a cap of $5.3 billion, as recommended by the planetary science decadal survey. Failure to meet this requirement could lead to the cancellation of MSR, with funds reallocated to other science missions and the Artemis program.

On a separate note, House appropriators released their CJS spending bill for fiscal year 2024 ahead of a subcommittee markup scheduled for July 14. The bill proposes $25.367 billion for NASA in 2024, slightly below the spending level for 2023 and significantly lower than the administration's request for 2024.

The reduced funding in both the House and Senate bills is primarily a result of the debt ceiling deal reached at the end of May. As part of the deal, the debt ceiling was raised, but non-defense discretionary funding, including NASA, was capped at 2023 levels for 2024.

Senator Moran expressed disappointment at the budget caps affecting NASA and other agencies, recognizing the significant challenges they would face in maintaining all of their programs. NASA officials had previously acknowledged that the agency's funding for 2024 would fall short of the requested amount, necessitating tough decisions and potential delays or cancellations of certain initiatives.

The bills proposed by the House and Senate Appropriations Committees will undergo further review and consideration before finalization.