White House budget would ask for $17.5 billion for NASA

A handout image dated Feb. 10, 2014 and provided by NASA on Feb. 12, 2014, made with Mars rover’s Navigation Camera (Navcam) on its mast showing a look-back eastward at wheel tracks after driving through and past ‘Dingo Gap’ inside Gale Crater. (NASA)

The Obama administration is asking $17.5 billion for NASA, another tight budget for an agency that peaked at $18.7 billion in 2010. The 2015 request is down $186 million from the enacted 2014 budget. NASA can also tap $900 million in the administration’s Opportunity initiative if Congress provides the funding.

NASA officials view this as a “continuity-driven” budget that will make almost all major programs go forward as planned. That includes the Asteroid Redirect Mission, the controversial asteroid-capturing proposal of a year ago that Republicans on the Hill vociferously opposed, but which the administration is still pushing, with $133 million requested for the program in 2015 (NASA believes the overall mission would cost less than $2 billion over time).

Also going forward is the James Webb Space Telescope, on track for a 2018 launch, and the development of a new, heavy-lift rocket, the Space Launch System, and the Orion space capsule. The administration extends the life of the International Space Station until 2024, and funds a commercial launch industry that hopes to send American astronauts to the ISS on American rockets by 2017 – though NASA has warned that the schedule will slip without full funding of the program.

The budget request cuts $180 million from the science program, but keeps the Curiosity rover on Mars and extends the life of the Cassini mission to Saturn. A casualty of the tighter budget is an airborne astronomical observatory known as the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA).

Joel Achenbach writes on science and politics for the Post's national desk and on the "Achenblog."
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