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).