FY2009 NASA Appropriations (02-27-09)

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The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was established by the National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958 to conduct space and aeronautical research, development, and flight activities for peaceful purposes designed to maintain United States preeminence in aeronautics and space. NASA's unique mission of exploration, discovery, and innovation is intended to preserve the United States' role as both a leader in world aviation and as the pre-eminent space-faring nation. It is NASA's mission to: advance human exploration, use and development of space; advance and communicate scientific knowledge and understanding of the Earth, the Solar System and the Universe; and research, develop, verify and transfer advanced aeronautics and space technologies. The geoscience community is most interested in the Earth science observations conducted within the Science Mission Directorate within four themes (Earth Science,Planetary Science, Heliophysics and Astrophysics).

Fiscal Year (FY) 2009 NASA Appropriations Process


FY08 Enacted
House Action
Senate Action
NASA (total) *
Science (total)
--Earth Science
not specified
Earth Science Research
not specified
Earth Systematic Missions
not specified
Earth System Science Pathfinder
not specified
Earth Science Multi-Mission Operations
not specified
Earth Science Technology
not specified
Applied Sciences
not specified
-- Planetary Science
not specified
not specified


not specified
Space Operations

* NASA has reorganized their account structure as directed by Congress in the FY08 omnibus appropriation bill.
** Numbers reflect funding levels recommended by the House and Senate Appropriations Committees, respectively and do not represent action taken by the full body of either chamber.

***Numbers represent the approved Omnibus Appropriations Act of 2009 (H.R. 1105) in the 111th Congress from February 25, 2009. The full House has approved the bill and now the full Senate is now considering the omnibus.

President's Request

On February 4, 2008, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), Deputy Director Shana Dale presented the President's fiscal year (FY) 2009 request at $17.6 billion. The request represents a 1.8% increase above FY08 enacted levels and according to Dale "demonstrates the President's commitment to funding the balance of priorities he set forth for the agency in space exploration, Earth and space science, and aeronautics."

In the FY08 Appropriations Omnibus, Congress instructed NASA to restructure its accounting system and rather than allocating funding across three accounts (Science, Aeronautics, and Exploration; Exploration Capabilities; and Inspector General), funds are dispersed among seven accounts (Space Operations, Exploration Systems, Science, Aeronautics, Education, Cross Agency Support, and Inspector General).

The Science Mission Directorate, which includes Earth Science, Planetary Science, Astrophysics and Heliophysics, would receive $4.4 billion in the FY09 proposal, a decline of 6% or $265 million compared to FY08 enacted levels. The Aeronautics directorate would fall by 13% or $65 million, totaling $447 million, and the Education account would decrease by 21% or $31 million for a total of $116 million. The increases in NASA's proposed budget boost the Exploration and Space Operations accounts by 11% and 5% for a total of $3.5 billion and $5.8 billion, respectively.

The Earth Science and Planetary Science programs within the Science Directorate are slated to get a boost in the FY09 budget to $1.37 billion and $1.33 billion, respectively, representing an increase of 7% in for both programs when compared to FY08 levels. The Astrophysics and Heliophysics programs would decline to $1.16 billion and $577 million, a 13% and 31% drop, respectively.

Deputy Director Dale emphasized NASA's receipt of the Decadal Survey for Earth Science, last year and the input the science community had on the formation of the missions within the Science Directorate. Dale stated that NASA's "budget runout (FY09-FY13) provides $910 million for the development of two Decadal Survey priorities, the SMAP Mission for soil moisture mapping and a second-generation ICEsat Mission, as well as formulation and early development work on three additional Decadal Survey missions." Decadal Survey Missions would receive $103.2 million in FY09, this is a 68% increase compared to FY08 enacted levels.

Other projects of interest within the Earth Science program include the Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) mission that would increase by $51.4 million in FY09 to $125.8 million, the Landstat Data Continuity Mission that would increase slightly to $139.4 million in FY09 compared to $133 million in FY08, the Ocean Surface Topography Mission that would decrease by $52.5 million for a total of $80 million in FY09, and the Orbiting Carbon Observatory (OCO) that would decline to $25.4 million from $35.6 million.

During NASA's budget presentation Dale discussed the collaboration of the Science Directorate, specifically the Planetary Science program, with the Exploration Mission Directorate "to better understand our Moon," and increased funding in the FY09 budget proposal for lunar science as well as the development of two small lunar landers. The Lunar Science Research program would increase by $82 million or 362% above FY08 levels for a program total of $105 million. Deputy Director Dale also indicated that NASA will focus much of its effort on Mars missions until after 2013 and a sample return launch by 2020, this is reflected in proposed budget with a decline of $167 million or 30% in the Mars Exploration program for a proposed total of $385.6 million in FY09.

For more information on NASA's FY09 budget visit: http://www.nasa.gov/news/budget/index.html

House Action

Omnibus Appropriations Considered by the 111th Congress
The House quickly approved of the Omnibus Appropriations Act of 2009 (H.R. 1105), which would provide appropriations for most federal agencies for fiscal year 2009 (FY09). Currently most agencies are operating under a continuing resolution (CR) from the 110th Congress, which essentially sets budgets at FY08 levels. The CR expires on March 6, 2009, so Congress must either pass the omnibus or propose a new continuing resolution in order to avoid a shut down of the federal government. The quick action on the omnibus in the House means that the 111th Congress plans to pass an omnibus providing new appropriations for most federal agencies.

The House has sent the measure to the Senate, which will consider it during the first week of March. Significant changes are not expected as the House and Senate Appropriation Committees appear to have worked out differences left by the committees of the 110th Congress from 2008 before introducing H.R. 1105. The 111th Congress must work fast to compromise any remaining differences in order to get the bill to the President by March 6.

House of Representatives of 110th Congress Do Not Complete Appropriations for Fiscal Year 2009
The House was unable to complete deliberations within the appropriation subcommittees for nine appropriation bills. Instead Congress approved a continuing resolution to keep much of the federal government running at fiscal year 2008 funding levels. See the summary of the continuing resolution below for more details.

The House of Representatives considers funding for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration in the Commerce, Justice and Science Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee. Chaired by Representative Mollohan (D-WV), other members include Representatives Kennedy (D-RI), Fattah (D-PA), Ruppersberger (D-MD), Schiff (D-CA), Honda (D-CA), DeLauro (D-CT), Price (D-NC), Obey (D-WI), Frelinghuysen (R-NJ), Culberson (R-TX), Rogers (R-KY), Latham (R-IA), Aderholt (R-AL), and Lewis (R-CA).

Senate Action

Senate of the 110th Congress Does Not Complete Appropriations for Fiscal Year 2009
The Senate was unable to complete deliberations within the appropriation subcommittees for nine appropriation bills. Instead Congress approved a continuing resolution to keep much of the federal government running at fiscal year 2008 funding levels. See the summary of the continuing resolution below for more details.

The Senate considers funding for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration in the Commerce, Justice and Science Subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee. Chaired by Senator Mikulski (D-MD), other members include Senators Inouye (D-HI), Leahy (D-VT), Kohl (D-WI), Harkin (D-IA), Dorgan (D-ND), Feinstein (D-CA), Reed (D-RI), Lautenberg (D-NJ), Shelby (R-AL), Gregg (R-NH), Stevens (R-AK), Domenici (R-NM), McConnell (R-KY), Hutchison (R-TX), Brownback (R-KS), and Alexander (R-TN).

Conference Committee Action

Science Agencies Left Deflated as Congress Passes Continuing Resolution

On September 27th by a vote of 78-12, the Senate passed a continuing resolution, funding the majority of the government at fiscal year (FY) 2008 levels until March 6, 2009.  Senate action followed after the House passed the measure (H.R. 2638) on September 24th by a vote of 231-198. The continuing resolution package contains three FY 2009 spending bills – Defense funded at $488 billion, Military Construction and Veteran’s Affairs funded at $73 billion and Homeland Security funded at $40 billion - plus $23 billion in disaster relief funding.  The spending package also includes funding of $2.5 billion for the Pell Grant program, $75 billion for a domestic automakers and battery makers new technology loan program, and $5.1 billion for the low-income heating assistance program.

The continuation of FY 2008 spending levels for federal agencies which support the geosciences, means a significant decrease in real dollars for research relative to rising costs. There will be increasing competition for decreasing research funds, delays for some programs, deferments of new initiatives, uncertainties in budget planning, uncertainties in workforce levels (with potential layoffs) and fewer resources for education and training. 

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) on the eve of its 50th anniversary and expecting funding increases to carry-out core missions, will see a small decrease for a total budget of $17.1 billion. Although Congress passed and the President is expected to sign the NASA Re-authorization bill (H.R. 6063), NASA will not see any of the increases authorized in that measure any time soon, including the $20.2 billion budget proposed for FY 2009.

Additionally, the CR eliminates increases of tens of millions of dollars each for NSF, DOE-Office of Science and NASA that was provided in an emergency supplemental act approved in July. The flat budgets and the loss of the small emergency supplemental increases leaves federal science agencies extremely deflated, with small percentage cuts to their research portfolios and the need to re-organize their spending priorities. There is also a possibility of an across-the-board rescission to federal programs, if Congress needs to find funds to offset any emergency spending.

President Bush has indicated that he will sign the stopgap measure, funding the government past the end of his administration.  It is unclear how the next Congress will address spending for the remainder of FY 2009. While the next Congress and the next administration have the option to consider a different budget for FY 2009, the recent economic storm leaves any prediction on future appropriations very murky.

More details about the research budgets of specific science agencies in the CR is available from AAAS.

Appropriations Hearings

Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice and Science hearing on NASA FY 2009 Budget Request and Justification
April 3, 2008

Dr. Michael D. Griffin, NASA Administrator

Members Present
Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-MD)

In her opening statement Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) expressed concern over the stagnant funding request for NASA in fiscal year (FY) 2009 stating “science at NASA saves lives, saves the planet, and creates jobs for the future, so I am puzzled why the President’s budget flat-funds NASA science this year and for the next five years.” The budget request of $17.6 billion is $300 million above the level enacted in the 2008 omnibus bill, but does not keep pace with inflation. 

Dr. Griffin testified that the President’s FY 2009 budget request funds a balanced set of strategic priorities that the administration has set out for space exploration, Earth and space science, and aeronautics research. He also stated that as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of NASA’s creation he is “concerned that our nation is now facing a silent Sputnik, a moment when many other countries are racing for a new high ground of innovation, while our own advantages technological, economic, intellectual are showing signs of wear.” Dr. Griffin said that the challenges our space program faces can be overcome with “a determined and unified sense of purpose.” 

The majority of Senator Mikulski’s remarks and questions during the course of the hearing centered on the retirement of the space shuttle in 2010 and the gap NASA will have in human flight capabilities until 2015. Senator Mikulski renewed her commitment to try and shorten the gap by offering an amendment during the appropriations process that would provide an additional billion dollars to NASA’s budget.  According to Dr. Griffin if $2 billion dollars is added to NASA’s budget over the next few years a new space shuttle can be in place by 2013, but the gap cannot be shorten beyond this timeframe due to planning and technical issues.

A portion of the hearing was devoted to the NASA’s Science Mission Directorate with Senator Mikulski noting that the request of $4.4 billion for the Science Mission Directorate is steady, but the plans only include the launch of five of the 17 recommended Earth science missions by 2020. She stated that the National Academy of Science’s (NAS) decadal reports are the “roadmaps for NASA science to ensure that science, not politics, drives the missions.”

Senator Mikulski also discussed the overruns in budget and delays for Earth observing missions and noted that according to the NAS 40% of the Earth observing sensors will not function unless they are replaced by the end of the decade. She asked about NASA’s plans to replace those sensors and satellites.

 Dr. Griffin mentioned that NASA is in a difficult period because the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS) program encountered some severe cost problems.  And with the de-scoping of the NPOESS mission NASA is scrambling to find solutions for the climate sensors which were planned for NPOESS. He also stated that NASA and the administration recognize the seriousness of the concern for replacing the sensors now in orbit.  He stated NASA is working on an aggressive plan to address the issue, but the recovery plan cannot happen instantaneously. Senator Mikulski responded by stating that the committee would like to continue a dialogue with NASA regarding sensor and Earth observing satellite capabilities. She also mentioned that of the 12 science missions planned four are over budget and eight are behind schedule.

Senator Mikulski’s opening statement is available at http://mikulski.senate.gov/record.cfm?id=295483

Dr. Griffin’s written testimony can be access at http://appropriations.senate.gov/hearings.cfm?s=com


House Committee on Science and Technology, Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics hearing to Examine the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) Fiscal Year 2009
March 13, 2008

Dr. S. Alan Stern, Associate Administrator, NASA Science Mission Directorate
Dr. Lennard A. Fisk, Chair, Space Studies Board, National Research Council
Dr. Berrien Moore III, Executive Director, Climate Central; Chair, Committee on Earth Studies, National Research Council
Dr. Steven W. Squyres, Professor of Astronomy, Cornell University
Dr. Jack O. Burns, Professor, Center for Astrophysics and Space Astronomy, University of Colorado

Chairman Tom Udall (D-CO)
Representative Laura Richardson (D-CA)
Ranking Member Tom Feeney (R-FL)
Representative Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA)
Representative Michael McCaul (R-TX)

Chairman Tom Udall (D-CO) and Ranking Member Tom Feeney (R-FL) opened the hearing with remarks about the importance of the Science Mission Directorate and their concerns about under funding for all programs in fiscal year 2009 and beyond. Udall stated “For example, the National Academies estimated that some $7 billion would be required over the next 12 years to carry out the 15 NASA Earth Science missions recommended in the Decadal Survey.  However, the Administration’s budget plan for the next five years would allocate less than $1 billion to that effort.”

The subcommittee provided the following questions for the witnesses to address and versions of these questions were also asked by the members during the question and answer period. The geoscience community should consider these questions as these issues are the focus of policymakers who will determine the short and long term investments in NASA.

Key questions for the SMD from the subcommittee are:
• What are the goals of the Science Mission Directorate over the next five years? What are the challenges in meeting those goals?
• What threat do the eight science missions exceeding Congressionally-set cost and schedule thresholds pose for NASA’s FY 09 science budget and plans?
• Can the ambitious program proposed in the FY 09 be executed on a budget assumed to grow at the rate of inflation? What is the contingency strategy?
• Will NASA’s approach to technology development provide adequate risk reduction for current projects and currently planned major new initiatives?
• Are NASA’s science programs balanced?
• What is the status of NASA’s planning to support launches of medium-class science missions? To what degree is the availability of launch vehicles affecting strategic plans for the Science Mission Directorate?

Key questions for the Earth Science program from the subcommittee are:
• How sustainable is a budget wedge for Earth Science missions that is built on cuts to other NASA science programs?
• What is the status of climate sensors removed from the NPOESS platform and how do those plans affect NASA’s NPOESS Preparatory Project (NPP)?
• What lessons have been learned from the challenges related to the NPP and NPOESS programs and the remanifesting of climate sensors that were removed from the NPOESS platform? How does NASA plan to apply those lessons to the new Earth Science missions being planned?
• What is NASA’s role in the Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS) and what are the benefits of GEOSS to the U.S? What should it be? What has been accomplished since the strategic plan for GEOSS was issued three years ago?

Overall the President’s FY 09 budget request would provide $1.3675 billion for NASA’s Earth Science program, a 6.8 percent increase over the FY08 appropriation. Future budget planning would provide an increase of $910 million  over five years to initiate only the first two Earth science missions and start planning on three additional missions recommended in the National Academies Earth science decadal survey. About $570 million of the increase created for the decadal survey missions is funded through the transfer of funding from other science divisions, resulting in reductions in the Mars Exploration Program, a delay to the Solar Probe mission and other programmatic cuts. In addition this funding outlook does not come close to meeting the $500 million annual increase recommended by the National Academies decadal survey report to bring the program back to its fiscal year 2000 funding level and enable the decadal recommendations.

With this background, Alan Stern testified that the Science Mission Directorate (SMD) was progressing well toward its goals. He called progress on the Earth science decadal survey a “head turning start”. NASA has supported 90 flight missions and over 3,000 research grants and Stern called the SMD “healthy, vigorous and a model for the world”. He also noted a need to rebalance the portfolio and emphasized two priorities, accelerating progress on the Earth science decadal survey and building a lunar science community. The biggest problem, SMD faces is cost overruns for missions, according to Stern, and he indicated that future missions will be chosen based on their budget profile and ability to stay within costs. SMD will consider de-scoping or re-scoping some missions and will look for greater international collaborations. Stern finally noted that the outer planet mission and the Mars lander mission cannot be completed at the same time and will have to be planned in sequence with the outer planet mission proceeding first.

Dr. Fisk, Chair of the Space Studies Board, National Research Council noted the space science program is moving in the right direction but cannot carry out its mission with a growth rate of only one percent per year. The Earth science budget has decreased by about $500 million per year since 2000 and the budget outlook for the future would only provide a total of $600 million over the next five years. Fisk concluded the Earth science programs as well as all of the other programs have too few resources to accomplish too many tasks and funding restrictions need to be lifted. Fisk also commented on the NASA workforce. The NASA workforce is strongly peaked at 45-49 and there is a shortage of young skilled workers coming into the space program. It will be difficult to convince the best and brightest to join the space program when the program is clearly not a national priority. There is also a problem with training, as the Earth science program shrinks there are fewer opportunities for hands-on learning by university students.

Dr. Berrien Moore III, the Chair of the Committee on Earth Studies at the National Research Council focused on the budget shortfalls for Earth science missions. Moore requested budget increases for Earth science above the President’s request. The decadal survey also asked the White House Office of Science and Technology (OSTP) to conduct a study about implementing a plan for achieving and sustaining Earth observations. OSTP is now working on this report and Moore hopes it will be ready soon to help guide NASA on Earth observing priorities.

Dr. Steven Squyres, Professor of Astronomy, Cornell University said that the funding increase for lunar science was great news while the funding cuts for Mars exploration was bad news. A recent Mars program architecture study suggests the budget request does not contain enough funding for technology development for future Mars missions. In addition the projected cost of the Mars Sample Return (MSR) mission in 2018 to 2020 of $3.5 billion is probably only about half of its real cost and based on budget projections, two earlier Mars missions in 2013 and 2016 would have to be canceled in order to even consider supporting a $3.5 billion MSR in 2018 or later.

Chairman Udall and Ranking Member Feeney asked many questions about the costs of missions, whether there was enough funding to carry out objectives and how SMD was setting priorities for the future. The witnesses responded by providing more information about individual missions and priorities.  Two interesting discussions stand out from the normal budgetary and policy discussions of typical hearings.

At one point, Congressman Rohrabacher took the hearing into a slightly different direction when he asked a question about funding priorities for near-Earth object detections versus exoplanet discoveries. Rohrabacher noted that the Arecibo radio telescope has been slated for termination yet experts have told him that the radio telescope is useful for detecting near-Earth objects (NEOs) that might hit the Earth. Arecibo is funded by the National Science Foundation, not NASA, however, Rohrabacher wanted Dr. Stern to explain why a $5 million radio telescope “that might save millions of lives” is not a priority while a $500 million mission to detect exoplanets is a priority. Dr. Stern indicated that Arecibo was not necessary to detect objects that might hit Earth, while Dr. Squyres suggested the radio telescope could make a contribution. Rohrabacher then thanked Dr. Stern for being the first person to indicate that Arecibo was not necessary to detect NEOs and concluded that the lack of funding for the telescope was “bureaucratic game playing” between agencies.

At another point, Dr. Feeney was asked about the future Earth and space science work force and he commented that it was extremely important to get children excited about space. Dr. Squyres then noted that he had recently spoken to thousands of school children on Ford Field (Detroit Lions indoor football stadium) about the Mars missions. The children were all corralled at one end zone and Dr. Squyres stood at mid-field showing them images of Mars and talking about science. He suggested this was a grand way to reach a large audience of the next generation of Earth and space scientists.

The hearing concluded with three images of the martian surface provided by Dr. Squyres. He noted it was day 1491 of the 90 day Mars Exploration Mission and the two rovers, Spirit and Opportunity were still working hard to explore the surface, make bold discoveries and return beautiful images. Everyone left excited about space exploration, even with the current funding challenges.

Written testimony, opening statements and other relevant documents from the hearing are available at the committee web site at http://science.house.gov/publications/hearings_markups_details.aspx?NewsID=2119


Sources: NASA Budget Information website, American Institute of Physics

Please send any comments or requests for information to the AGI Government Affairs Program at govt@agiweb.org.

Prepared by Linda Rowan and Marcy Gallo, AGI Government Affairs Staff.

Last Update February 27, 2009.