The full House has now passed its version of the FY 2004 VA/HUD appropriations bill, which contains funding recommendations for NASA and the National Science Foundation as well as other programs. Under the House bill, funding for NASA would increase to $15.5 billion, an increase of 1.3% over FY 2003 funding, and an increase of 0.5% over the Administration's request. Funding for Space Flight Capabilities would decline to $7.8 billion, 1.3% less than current-year funding but 0.3% above the request. While budget levels are not specified for Space Science, Earth Science, and Biological and Physical Research, the entire Science, Aeronautics and Exploration account would grow to $7.7 billion, an increase of 4.1% above current-year funding, and of 0.6% above the request.
Accompanying the bill is the House Appropriations Committee report (H. Rpt. 108-235). The report states that the committee's final actions with regard to the Space Station, the Space Shuttle, the Orbital Space Plane and Next Generation Launch Technologies will await the results of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board; it is not yet known how the Board's findings will impact the budget for Space Flight Capabilities. The committee report also expresses concern over graduate student stipend levels and NASA's difficulties in maintaining its workforce. Below are selected quotations from the report:
"The Committee is concerned that the high radiation environment in the Jovian system will cause problems for the Jupiter Icy Moons Orbiter (JIMO) mission unless an investment is made in developing effective and reliable hardened microcircuit devices that can be produced in quantity at reasonable cost. Presently, the only available option for producing such devices for the forthcoming JIMO mission involves using very high cost techniques for customized microdevice construction. However, the Committee is aware of promising technology wherein conventional, low cost, high volume device fabrication might be used to produce the required radiation hardened microcircuits in bulk using a variation on conventional techniques. The Committee directs NASA to undertake an immediate effort to validate this technology in time for use on the JIM mission and assess its potential for cost effectiveness for that purpose and for other missions."
"The fiscal year 2002 appropriations bill and accompanying reports gave NASA Congressional direction to establish an implementation plan for Earth science applications partnerships.... The result of the implementation plan was a competition from which awards were announced on July 2, 2003. The Committee notes that NASA received 258 proposals in response to the competition notice of a peer-review process and 41 proposals were selected based on highest merit. The Committee commends NASA for moving forward with this effort and looks forward to working with NASA in the future to ensure adequate funding is provided for a more robust peer-reviewed competitive program. For this reason, the Committee recommendation does not include any funding for new remote sensing applications centers.... The Committee directs $5,000,000 from the NASA Earth Science Enterprise be transferred to the Air Force Research Laboratory (PE 62204F Aerospace Sensors) to develop dual-use lightweight space radar technology."
BIOLOGICAL AND PHYSICAL RESEARCH:
"The Committee has included an increase of $3,000,000 for technology development necessary to ensure the Satellite Test of the Equivalence Principle (STEP) mission can move forward. While the STEP mission was rejected for funding under NASA's SMEX program last year primarily because of its lack of technology development, the Committee has found that this was due to promised funds not being provided from NASA's Office of Space Science. With this action, the Committee is not negating the results of the SMEX competition. Instead, the Committee action creates a level playing field so the STEP program can compete in future programs.... The Committee continues its support for the materials science research community, and expects substantial progress to be made during fiscal year 2004 towards the completion and U.S. utilization of the Materials Science Research Rack-1 onboard the International Space Station."
SPACE FLIGHT CAPABILITIES:
"Within this appropriation, two major subcategories of funding exist, space flight and aerospace technology. Funding in the space flight category is provided for continued development and operation of the International Space Station, operations and upgrades to the performance and safety of the space shuttle, and flight support operations. Funding in the aerospace technology category includes the space launch initiative, mission and science measurement technology, and innovative technology transfer partnerships.... The Committee has taken no action at this time with regard to the International Space Station, the Space Shuttle program, the Orbital Space Plane program, or the Next Generation Launch Technology program. All of these programs will undoubtedly undergo significant transformation in the coming weeks as the results of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board's work is published and discussed. The Committee will use the report of the Board, and NASA's proposed response to the Board's findings and recommendations, as the basis for final action on the fiscal year 2004 budget proposal. The Committee has taken this position at this time because it expects the Board's recommendations to be far- reaching and significant. The Committee expects NASA to provide its plan of action for implementing the Board's recommendations to the Congress as soon as possible, with at least preliminary budget implications formally submitted to the Committee no later than September 15, 2003."
"The Committee remains committed to the full scientific utilization of the International Space Station (ISS), which will require a robust and expeditious means by which station crew can return safely to Earth in the case of an emergency. The Committee recognizes that NASA is in the process of using independent review teams to evaluate the costs and benefits of developing a reusable or expendable Orbital Space Plane (OSP) crewed system, which will return crew from, and soon thereafter transport crew to, the ISS. The Committee emphasizes its intent that full scientific utilization of the ISS begin as soon as possible, and therefore an American crew return and transport capability should be developed as expeditiously as possible.... Therefore, NASA is directed to provide to the Committee within ninety days of enactment of this act a report on the costs and benefits of both reusable and expendable architectures for the OSP crewed system, including the implications of each architecture type on the development timeline for a system that meets NASA's OSP Level I requirements. In addition, NASA is directed to notify the Committee before it takes any action that would preclude the OSP crewed system from eventually being integrated with a reusable launch booster."
"In the past, this Committee and the Congress have been staunch supporters of NASA's efforts to upgrade its shuttle fleet in the areas of safety and reliability and has provided all amounts requested for upgrades only to see significant upgrades canceled or deferred due to technological obstacles or cost constraints. The Committee therefore is pleased that NASA has initiated a new process that will integrate safety, supportability, obsolescence, infrastructure, and ground systems associated with the shuttle. The Committee expects that this overall process will result in long range plans for the shuttle, a prioritized list of investments, and a formal selection process for those investments that will achieve the goal of safe and efficient shuttle operations."
"The Committee is aware of a concern in the graduate education community that the current level of stipends in NASA's Graduate Student Research Program and the Earth System Science Fellowship are lagging the level in other areas of the Federal government and that participation in the programs by the best and brightest is therefore jeopardized. The Committee believes that NASA's investment in graduate education tries to fill a crucial funding gap in much the same way that NASA support for basic and applied research fills a gap in those programs. When the NASA investment in graduate education via stipends is increased, the rewards to NASA will increase. The Committee directs NASA to evaluate the stipend level in its programs and report to the Committee on actions it will take to increase the level of stipend for its programs. Additionally, the Committee directs NASA to evaluate and report on the value of expanding its use of graduate fellowships to all NASA science offices."
While no total amount is specified for all of NASA's education programs, $25.3 million is recommended for the National Space Grant College and Fellowship program. The report states, "The Committee remains concerned that NASA is no closer to solving its workforce problems than at this time a year ago. At that time, the Committee had directed NASA, in cooperation with the Nation's leading research universities, to develop a comprehensive plan and implementation strategy that will result in an increase in the number of students pursuing advanced degrees. While the education budget indicates NASA has a program of Explorer Academies starting in fiscal year 2003, very little information is provided which would give the Committee an assurance that this program will energize student interest in science, engineering, mathematics or other disciplines needed for NASA's future workforce. Likewise, the Education Base Program is listed in the budget material as being ‘under review' for alignment with new priorities. While this budget material in no way justifies the requested funding level of $169,800,000, the Committee has provided the budget request and directs NASA to inform the Committee expeditiously on its detailed plans for an education program in fiscal year 2004." (House and Senate bills to provide NASA with more flexibility in workforce recruitment and retention, H.R. 1085 and S. 610, have been passed by the House Science Committee and the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, respectively.)