(NASA Social 2/2/15 State of NASA)
The final stage of our State-Of-NASA day starts with Lunch. If you turn up in the morning with a bit of cash, you can sign up for a box lunch, and I knew from before that it’s a good one. But luckily today, I left my cash at home so my lunch is the granola bar that’s been hiding in my computer bag since I’m not sure when. But, yes, luckily, since we’ve gotten back to the visitor’s center just in time for the start of the budget presentation, livestreamed via the big screen at the Exploration Center. There’s no time to eat more than a granola bar if I want both hands free to type & tweet.
Now, I know that Ames employees were also gathered elsewhere watching the livestream. I’m wondering if it might have been more efficient and more socially fun to have the Social Media crew join that larger group for these livestreams. Maybe next time…
A Disclosure Moment
Sure, I’m a space fan, so it wouldn’t be out of line to assume I’m in favor of funding NASA. But of course, on top of that, my husband does work for NASA, so there can be an actual family effect from budget decisions. Though I’m really writing about a) the general budget picture and b) what it’s like at a NASA Social, I’ll avoid the budget topics that directly affect our family. No, wait, the budget issue that’s most likely to have a real, measurable effect on us isn’t some line item, it’s the regular sequestration of funds by our truculent Congresspersons. (As in, my husband hasn’t had an actual raise in more than 5 years.) And then there are those wonderful times when Congress shuts down the government and he and all his colleagues don’t get paid at all and proceed to complain (bitterly) that they have been told to stay home and not work. There’s nothing worse to a scientist than being told not to work. In any case, here I’m not aiming for a critical review, but more of a “what’s in the budget” overview.
The Proposed 2016 NASA Budget
You can delve into every element of the budget here. http://www.nasa.gov/news/budget/#.VOG06i4bKj8
Let’s see if I can squeeze it into a few paragraphs. And keep in mind this is the requested budget, part of President Obama’s 2016 budget. Congress has to approve it. These numbers sound big to us, spending $18.5 billion on NASA. Just keep in mind that this is 0.04% of the total 2016 Obama budget. And if compared to the defense portion of the military budget, it’s 3% of that. Here’s the Big Picture:
Did you find NASA? OK, once you peer into that 0.04% of the total, here’s what you get:
Category I. Science. $ 5.29 billion (about the same as 2015)
For this, we get: Landsat and all its kin providing Earth images, taking over all of NOAA’s earth-observing satellites except for the weather satellites, all of the current & upcoming Mars missions, Cassini, the Pluto mission (New Horizons), a mission to Jupiter, detection of near-Earth asteroids, all the space telescopes, the search for exoplanets, the James Webb telescope project and dozens of solar physics projects. Whew.
Category II. Aeronautics. $0.57 billion (down)
Category III. Space Technology. $0.73 billion (up)
This covers new technology development in and for space applications, such as alternative fuels, solar electric propulsion,
the life-support system development for Orion, and development of laser communications systems.
Category IV. Exploration. $4.51 billion (up)
This is a big category, because it’s for big stuff, mainly the Orion system, for which the first test flight went so well. Next up is the Exploration Mission, an unmanned trip to the Moon and back. And of course it’s all about The Journey To Mars. And a major subcategory is support for the development of commercial spaceflight. Like SpaceX and Boeing.
Category V. Space Operations. $4.00 billion (up)
That’s taking care of what we have up in space: mostly the International Space Station,
but also the facilities for support of those space missions, from the satellite fleet that provides tracking to the launch support on the ground.
Category VI. Education. $0.89 billion (down 20%)
Wow. No clear explanation for this, but education funding has been shaved by about 25%. There’re education-related funds under other categories, but this is the core education funding for NASA’s contribution to the Federal plan to support STEM education. That includes Space Grant and programs to get more minority students interested STEM and going on to earn degrees in science and engineering. This is in addition to some education funding budgeted elsewhere, totaling $26.
Category VII. Safety, Security & Mission Services + Construction + Environmental Compliance + the office of the Inspector General. $ 3.25 billion (about the same)
That keeps all the NASA centers operating and takes care of any needed construction work (including environmental clean-up jobs).
We also get a few key bits to ponder:
On average, between 2015 and 2020, we’ve got about 17 launches per year planned, of which about 13 have a science focus.
NASA is taking on a lot of former NOAA stuff, like ozone monitoring, ocean altimetry, and non-defense Earth-observing satellites, leaving just the weather satellites in NOAA’s budget.
But–wait for it–the proposed budget assumes that the venerable Opportunity rover retires this year. Wait. Whaaaat? Oppy has not even hinted at a desire to quit her roving ways. If the “science value” makes sense, then they’ll try to provide funding anyhow.
The Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (la bella osservatoria in volo, SOFIA) is fully funded in this budget request (last year, it wasn’t funded, but they got Congress to fund it later on, which kept the airborne observatory flying through fiscal 2015. No need for such machinations in 2016.
The State of Ames
Aaand, for a grand finale we get our very own presentation by Director of Ames S. Pete Worden and Ames CFO Paul Agnew. I’m actually awfully impressed, that this small group gets the attention of these top administrators, when I’m sure they’ve been through a similar session with the “real” media.
Here’s the short version: Director Worden is delighted that the President supports a larger budget for NASA as a whole and happy that Ames is well taken care of in this budget, scoring its own $31 million overall budget increase with no cut in the education budget here. The special favorite is that solid funding for SOFIA, which is what bumps up Ames’ science budget. There’s funding for the CubeSats we saw today and for K-2 (the second-generation Kepler program) to keep ferreting out exoplanets around dwarf stars. And the upcoming new planet-finder TESS is in the works. Ames is on the forefront in reentry systems and several other areas critical to the Orion mission, so those are in well as is the Intelligent Robotics Group. The guys across the street from the Roverscape, the advanced computing group, also have a stable budget for next year.
And they are very pleased that Ames’ own SOFIA is saved for another budget year.
I asked how Ames managed to keep its education budget stable when the agency-wide budget has such big cuts. I got a fuzzy answer, broadly indicating that a center’s education budget is affected by what that center asked for at the agency level, and that Ames has established a steady set of relationships and grants.
OK, just to review.
The requested budget for NASA is $18.5 billion, an increase of about $500 million.
But put this in context. The defense request is $605 billion.
So, NASA is asking for about 3.1% of what the military is asking for, just for current defense purposes, not including taking care of our veterans.
And that’s out of a total budget of $4 trillion.
So the President is asking if it’s OK if he spends 0.04% of our taxes on exploring our solar system, establishing a human presence in space, and using space-based research to find out all kinds of cool stuff that will help people on Earth.
So now we just have to wait and see what happens in Congress.