FY 2017 Budget Request: Large Cuts to NASA Science and Exploration

Share This

Share/Save
Publication date: 
18 February 2016
Number: 
18

Following a 7.1 percent spending increase in fiscal year 2016, the President is proposing to cut NASA’s discretionary budget by 5.3 percent in fiscal year 2017, with the largest reductions falling on the agency’s exploration and, to a lesser extent, science programs.

While the Obama Administration is calling for funding increases for some federal science agencies in the fiscal year 2017 budget request, NASA is not among them. The space agency would see large cuts to major science and exploration programs under the President’s proposal, namely to Planetary Science, Astrophysics, and development of the Orion crew vehicle and Space Launch System that are aimed at one day sending a manned mission to Mars.

These proposed funding cuts follow a banner fiscal year 2016 for NASA, in which Congress appropriated a spending increase of $1.275 billion or 7.1 percent for the agency and a similar rate of growth for the Science Mission Directorate. In a “State of NASA” speech at Langley Research Center on Feb. 9, Administrator Charles Bolden reassured NASA employees that, “The state of our NASA is strong.

In addition, the Administration is attempting to make up most of the cuts through a novel proposal for $763 million in additional mandatory spending that would be spread out across the agency. Historically, nearly all of NASA’s budget has been supported through discretionary funding divided up by Congress through the annual appropriations process. Congressional buy-in for the new mandatory spending is unlikely. See the FY 2017 budget request overview FYI for more details.

The two tables below show the fiscal year 2017 funding request for NASA with and without proposed new mandatory funding. The American Astronomical Society has also posted an analysis of the sections of the NASA budget request important to the astronomical sciences.

 

Table 1: President's FY17 request for NASA excluding mandatory spending

Agency / Directorate / Account FY15
Actual
FY16
Enacted
FY17
Request
Change
FY16-17
NASA 18,010.2 19,285.0 18,262.0 -5.3%
Science 5,243.0 5,589.4 5,302.5 -5.1%
Earth Science 1,784.1 1,921.0 1,972.2 2.7%
Planetary Science 1,446.7 1,631.0 1,390.7 -14.7%
Astrophysics 730.7 730.6 696.5 -4.7%
James Webb Space Telescope 645.4 620.0 569.4 -8.2%
Heliophysics 636.1 649.8 673.7 3.7%
Aeronautics 642.0 640.0 634.5 -0.9%
Space Technology 600.3 686.5 690.6 0.6%
Exploration 3,542.7 4,030.0 3,163.9 -21.5%
Orion 1,190.2 1,270.0 1,053.4 -17.1%
Space Launch System 1,678.6 2,000.0 1,229.9 -38.5%
Space Operations 4,625.5 5,029.2 5,075.8 0.9%
International Space Station 1,524.8 Not Specified 1,430.7  
Education 119.0 115.0 100.1 -13.0%

* all figures are in millions of nominal U.S. dollars

 

Table 2: President's FY17 request for NASA including mandatory spending

Agency / Directorate / Account FY15
Actual
FY16
Enacted
FY17
Request
Change
FY16-17
NASA 18,010.2 19,285.0 19,025.0 -1.3%
Science 5,243.0 5,589.4 5,600.5 0.2%
Earth Science 1,784.1 1,921.0 2,032.2 5.8%
Planetary Science 1,446.7 1,631.0 1,518.7 -6.9%
Astrophysics 730.7 730.6 781.5 7.0%
James Webb Space Telescope 645.4 620.0 569.4 -8.2%
Heliophysics 636.1 649.8 698.7 7.5%
Aeronautics 642.0 640.0 790.4 23.5%
Space Technology 600.3 686.5 826.7 20.4%
Exploration 3,542.7 4,030.0 3,336.9 -17.2%
Orion 1,190.2 1,270.0 1,119.8 -11.8%
Space Launch System 1,678.6 2,000.0 1,310.3 -34.5%
Space Operations 4,625.5 5,029.2 5,075.8 0.9%
International Space Station 1,524.8 Not Specified 1,430.7  
Education 119.0 115.0 100.1 -13.0%

* all figures are in millions of nominal U.S. dollars

 

NASA’s goals include Earth and planetary science, the ISS, and a manned mission to Mars

The budget request funds progress toward a number of overarching NASA goals, which NASA Chief Financial Officer David Radzanowski highlighted on a Feb. 9 budget rollout as including:

  • growth of a vibrant American commercial space industry;
  • partnership with industry to send astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) from American soil by the end of 2017, so the U.S. no longer must rely on Russia for our rides;
  • operation of the ISS through at least 2024;
  • enhanced investments aimed at sending humans to Mars by the mid-2030s, with an emphasis on new technologies needed for deep space missions, such as ground laser communications, satellite servicing, habitation concepts, and advanced space propulsion;
  • satellite and research efforts to help us understand the Earth’s systems and climate; and
  • implementation of the National Space Weather Strategy and Action Plan.

Bolden emphasized the Mars destination as a unifying goal during his “State of NASA” address, coining the phrase “Mars matters”:

Among the big anniversaries we celebrated this year, we also marked five years since President Obama laid out his plan for NASA and for a Journey to Mars that will take American astronauts to the Red Planet in the 2030s. I mentioned earlier that there’s a bipartisan consensus emerging around this plan and timetable and it’s a consensus that extends far beyond Washington to the various corners of science, policy, higher learning, industry, non-profits, citizen scientists…

Other anticipated accomplishments and budget request highlights

According to Radzanowski, NASA’s anticipated accomplishments in fiscal year 2017 include:

  • continued assembly, integration, and testing of the Orion crew vehicle and Space Launch System, in preparation for their first joint, uncrewed flight, in fall 2018;
  • completion of the ISS’s final international docking adapter for commercial crew vehicles, which will support increased on-board research activity;
  • launch of 13 science and cargo missions, including:
    • the Orbiting Carbon Observatory-3 instrument for placement on the ISS or another space-based platform in order to investigate the distribution of carbon dioxide on Earth;
    • OSIRIS-Rex, which will be the first U.S. spacecraft to collect samples from an asteroid and return them to Earth;
    • GOES-R and GOES-S, joint collaborations with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) that will serve as the first two of the U.S.’s next generation line of geostationary weather and Earth-observing satellites; and
    • JPSS-1, also a joint collaboration with NOAA, the first of two satellites that will serve as the next generation U.S. polar-orbiting weather and Earth-observing platform.
  • testing and integration of major components of the James Webb Space Telescope, which is still set to launch on schedule and within budget in fall 2018; and
  • arrival in July of the Juno mission to Jupiter, to observe and understand the physical characteristics and evolution of our solar system’s largest planet.

Other fiscal year 2017 budget request highlights within the NASA Science Mission Directorate include:

Earth Science

Planetary Science

  • continued development of the Mars 2020 rover mission;
  • continued formulation of a mission to Jupiter’s moon Europa, with an expected launch by the late 2020s;
  • initiation of studies for the next New Frontiers mission;

Astrophysics

Heliophysics

 

 

About the author

mhenry [at] aip.org
+1 301-209-3094

Explore FYI topics: