Tag Archives: mission

Congress Just Gave NASA A Massive Budget For Next Year

Good news, everyone. NASAs latest budget has just been put forward by Congress and they have allocated the agency $750 million more than they requested. This means the agencys full budget for 2016 is $19.3 billion, which incredibly in an age of cutting costs is almost $1.3 billion more than last year.

The budget increases funding to several key programs at NASA, including its Commercial Crew program, its Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, and the Orion spacecraft. “We are going back into space with Americans on American rockets, and we are going to Mars,” Senator Bill Nelson said yesterday.

Perhaps most interestingly, $175 million of the budget has been set aside for the Europa Multi-Flyby Mission, a spacecraft that will be sent to Europa in the early 2020s, and the budget dictates that NASA must include a lander for the surface of this icy moon of Jupiter. “This mission shall include an orbiter with a lander that will include competitively selected instruments and that funds shall be used to finalize the mission design concept,” it reads, reported Ars Technica.

A landerhas been touted for the upcoming Europa mission before, but NASA has not been keen to firmly commit to anything yet, as there are many unknowns about undertaking such a landing. It remains to be seen how they’ll go forward with this request.

Nonetheless, the large amount of funding essentially allows NASA to meet most of the other goals it has set itself. Crucially, they were given the $1.243 billion of funding for the Commercial Crew program that they have been pushing so hard for. Administrator Charlie Bolden recently told IFLScience that he counted this getting SpaceX and Boeings manned spacecraft up and running as one of the key goals of his time in office.

Wish you were here? Congress has told NASA they must senda lander to the surface of Europa. NASA

Elsewhere, planetary science has received a boost in the form of $1.631 billion $270 million above what the President requested. According to The Planetary Society, this “allows both the MER Opportunity rover and the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter to continue science operations.” The upcoming Mars 2020 rover, meanwhile, gets a $22 million boost.

The huge SLS, which Congress seems very keen to overfund, has been given $2 billion, $640 million above the $1.36 billion requested by the President. The SLS, if you arent aware, will eventually be used to take humans to Mars with the Orion spacecraft, which has been given an increase to $1.91 billion.

Of the areas to miss out on their requested levels of funding, one is the Earth Science Division, which received$1.921 billion less than the Presidents request but $149 million more than last year. Another is the Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD), which gets $686 million $39 million less than requested, but $90 million more than last year.

The budget still needs to pass a vote in Congress this week, which seems likely at the moment, although a controversial surveillance bill was snuck in along with it. If it gets bythis test, the White House will almost certainly sign it into law.

Onto Europa, then.

Read more: http://www.iflscience.com/space/congress-just-gave-nasa-massive-budget-next-year

Rebooted NASA Spacecraft Begins a New Mission 36 Years After Launch


Artist’s concept image of ISEE-3 (ICE) spacecraft.
Image: NASA

A 36-year-old NASA spacecraft began a new interplanetary science mission on Sunday when it made a close pass by the moon.

The privately controlled International Sun-Earth Explorer 3 spacecraft, also called ISEE-3, flew by the moon at approximately 2:16 p.m. EDT.

The ISEE-3 spacecraft is under the control of the ISEE-3 Reboot Project, a private team of engineers who took control of the probe earlier this year under an agreement with NASA. The team initially hoped to move the NASA probe into a stable orbit near the Earth. But attempts failed when the team discovered that the spacecraft, which NASA launched in 1978, was out of the nitrogen pressurant needed to get the job done.

Now, ISEE-3 Reboot Project engineers are focusing their efforts on an interplanetary science mission, since at least some of the probe’s 13 instruments are still working. By using a network of individual radio dishes across the world, the team will listen to the ISEE-3 spacecraft for most of its orbit around the sun.

Officials announced this week that they would collaborate with Google to offer live spacecraft data at the site SpacecraftForAll.com. Financial terms were not disclosed. Chris Lintott, of the BBC’s “The Sky at Night,” moderated a Google Hangout on ISEE-3.

“The main feature of this is a new website developed by Google Creative Lab in collaboration with the ISEE-3 Reboot Project team that features a history of the ISEE-3 mission as well as a presentation of data currently being received from ISEE-3,” co-founder Keith Cowing said in a statement.

The spacecraft was originally launched in 1978 to study the sun, and was retasked for other science missions such as looking at comets. NASA put ISEE-3 into hibernation in 1998, where it remained until the private group reactivated it this year under a Space Act Agreement.

Members raised about $160,000 through crowdfunding, most of which is gone due to the need to rent dish time at NASA’s Deep Space Network to listen in, and to fly team members to the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico for communications.

To learn more about the ISEE-3 Reboot Project, visit: http://spacecollege.org/.

This article originally published at Space.com

Read more: http://mashable.com/2014/08/11/isee-3-buzzes-moon/

Cassini Bids Farewell To Saturn’s Enceladus In Final, Remarkable Flyby

Say goodbye to Enceladus: The Cassini spacecraft has finished its final flyby of the mysterious icy moon ofSaturn. After receiving streams of data over the weekend, NASA has showcased some of the most beautiful astrophotography taken by the probe. Passing at a distance of 4,999 kilometers (3,106 miles) from the surface of the moon, the final series of images reveals the worlds furrows and ridges in impeccable detail.

This final Enceladus flyby elicits feelings of both sadness and triumph, said Earl Maize, Cassini project manager at NASAs Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), in a statement. While we’re sad to have the close flybys behind us, we’ve placed the capstone on an incredible decade of investigating one of the most intriguing bodies in the Solar System.

The final flyby was Cassinis 22nd, and was by no means its most dramatic. An earlier flyby saw the probe skimjust 48kilometers (30 miles) above the surface of Enceladus south pole, a region featuringspectacular plumes breaking through the ice and launching into space. Some have termed these icy jets as an example of cryovolcanism: volcanic eruption columns made entirely of ice.

Image credit: Samarkand Sulci, one of the tiger stripes of Enceladus likely formed by very young tectonic activity. This feature is 383 kilometers (238 miles) in length. NASA

This year, Cassini confirmed that there is a global ocean beneath the surface of Enceladus, one which is warm enough to produce these icy plumes. These plumes actually replenish one of Saturns famous rings, in this case the E ring. Although the formations on Pluto are more likely to be bonafide ice volcanoes, these plumes are still spectacular, and important: they may contain compounds indicative of biological processes operating beneath the surface.

Some scientists have speculated that this Saturnian moon, therefore, may be a prime candidate in our search for extraterrestrial life. By flying the spacecraft directly into one of these plumes in order to collect samples, NASA hoped to find evidence for this remarkable possibility. The data is still being analyzed, so only time will tell in this respect. Organic molecules, the building blocks of life on Earth, have already been confirmed to be present in these plumes.

Image credit: Enceladus northern territory. The terrain in the left part of this image has almost no craters, meaning it must be quite young. NASA

Scientists noted that themoon generates internal heat using the same mechanism that that powers the fiery, hellish volcanism of Jupiters moon Io. In Ios case, the massive pull of Jupiters gravity, enhanced by its interaction with two other nearby moons, exerts an incredible gravitation force on its subsurface; this rips apart solid rock, causing it to melt.

In the case of Enceladus, the same mechanism, albeit a weaker variant, comes from its celestial dance with Saturn. This is known as tidal heating, demonstrated in two remarkably different ways in Enceladus and Ios song of ice and fire.

Enceladus, 1.4 billion kilometers (890million miles) from Earth, still holds many mysteries, and its likely that only a handful will be unraveled by the data streaming back from Cassini as it begins to turn its focus to Saturn itself.

We bid a poignant goodbye to our close views of this amazing icy world, said Linda Spilker, the mission’s project scientist at JPL. The spacecraft will continue its tour of the Saturnian system until September 2017, whereupon it will complete its Solstice Mission by dramatically entering Saturns atmosphere.

Read more: http://www.iflscience.com/space/cassini-bids-farewell-saturns-enceladus-final-remarkable-flyby

We’re About To Learn A Whole Lot More About Venus Thanks To Japan’s Akatsuki Mission

It may be five years behind schedule, but Japans Akatsuki spacecraft is finally starting its scientific mission around Venus and it has alreadyreturned some rather stunning images in the process.

Akatsuki originally launched in May 2010, and was expected to enter orbit around Venus later that year. But a problem with its main engine en-route to the second (and hottest) planet of the Solar System saw it enter orbit around the Sun instead. The team was able to salvage the mission with its secondary thrusters, but it meant an agonizing wait of five years as the spacecraft slowly swung around to enter orbit again in December 2015.

At the International Venus Conference in Oxford, U.K., last week, the Japanese space agencys (JAXA) Akatsuki project manager, Masato Nakamura, presented the first results from the little probe that could, reportsNature. He also revealed that most of the probes instruments are in fine health, save for one camera that seems to have degraded during the unintended mission extension.

He showed off one fascinating image that revealed streaked clouds in the atmosphere of Venus. In the image, which is on the left below, definition between the different layers of the Venusian atmosphere can clearly be seen. Its hoped that Akatsuki could help reveal how the acidic clouds of Venus are replenished with sulfur dioxide.

A second image, on the right below, was shot by an infrared camera on the spacecraft. It shows a moving cloud formation on Venus, shaped like a bow. Interestingly, this cloud formation moved from pole to pole for several days, but appeared to be more influenced by the rotation of Venus thanthe fast-moving atmosphere, something that has intrigued scientists.

Above, two images of Venus returned by Akatsuki. ISAS/JAXA

How a band structure can run from north to south is a puzzle, Takeshi Imamura, project scientist on the Akatsuki mission, said in a JAXA interview. We never imagined that we would see this kind of thing.

At the moment, Akatsuki is just taking still images of Venus, but the team plans to start recording video this month, which will be the first-ever recordings of atmospheric cloud movement on Venus. I think after that our understanding will progress in leaps and bounds, added Imamura.

One issue with the Akatsuki spacecraft, though, is that it is not in the originally intended orbit when the mission launched in 2010, owing to the engine malfunction. It was originally planned to orbitevery 30 hours, moving between 300 and 80,000kilometers (190and 50,000 miles)from the surface. Its new orbit, though, will take 10.5 days, moving between 4,000 and 370,000 kilometers (2,500 and 230,000 miles).

This will mean the images it returns are lower resolution than planned, so spotting particular features like lightning might be more difficult. But the large sweeping orbit, five times further than intended, will allow more images of the entire planet to be taken, allowing the team to monitor large-scale changes on the planet.

Nonetheless, the scientists behind the mission are no doubt thrilled that Akatsukis science mission is up and running. Data gathered by the spacecraft will be exclusively available to JAXA scientists in the first year after it is acquired, but planetary scientists around the world will be eagerly awaiting results from the mission to help give us a better understanding of this fascinating world.

And with more missions to explore Venus in the works, includingtwo NASA proposals, Akatsuki may renew excitement in a planet that has been devoid of any orbiting spacecraft sinceEurope’s Venus Expressmission ended in December 2014.

Photo Gallery

Read more: http://www.iflscience.com/space/were-about-learn-whole-lot-more-about-venus-thanks-japans-akatsuki-mission

Buzz Aldrin: The President That Sends Us To Mars Will Be Remembered For 1,000s Of Years

Buzz Aldrin really, really wants usto go to Mars. Earlier this year, he outlined his proposal to get there by 2039, but notjust brief missions like his own Apollo 11 – he wants us to colonize it, and create permanent settlements there, he explained in an exclusive interview withIFLScience.

He is not alone in his ambition. Just last week, NASA unveiled their own plan to get humans to Mars, on the back of significant publicity from therecent movie The Martian. But Aldrin has been an outspoken proponent of missions to Mars for decades, almost since he returned from the Moonin July 1969 and now, at the age of 85, he wants to inspirethe next generations to reach for the Red Planet when he is no longer around.

We will colonize Mars, Aldrin told IFLScience, confidently.I wrote this book, Welcome to Mars, to inspire the young people, because they will be the ones who will carry out these missions to Mars, perhaps participating in them. Maybe theyll become a violinist, a lawyer, an engineer, or a fighter pilot if theyre lucky. Or maybe theyll become a crew member trained by world resources, billions and billions of dollars, to go into the preparation of human beings to be selected and trained, hopefully willing to commit themselves to be pioneers, to be settlers [on Mars].

Aldrin sees Mars as the logical next step to advancing Americas influence in space. We have to rethink the requirements for being great in space, as a nation, he said, that will give America a further lasting heritage legacy in history books. And I want to be part of the planning for it. He noted, though, that he hopes it is an international endeavor that includes nations such as China.

A manned mission to Mars by the end of the 2030s is feasible, Aldrin has said previously.NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS.

Aldrins plan calls for a cycler spacecraft to remain in orbit between Earth and Mars, with people using this habitat to make the trip to and from the Red Planet. They will join crews living on the surface of Mars, the first permanent settlers there, to provide humanity with another outpost to live on. How many planets do we have? How many planets even come close to being habitable like Earth in our Solar System? The choice is ours, said Aldrin.

He admits, though, that the idea of sending people to live out the rest of their lives on Mars might not sit well with some members of the public. Thats not what a lot of people think the future ought to be, that the U.S. government should not commit to one-way trips, he said.

The U.S. government will never agree to send people to die on Mars, they say. “Well, come on. Think of history. Think of the opportunities that exist for young people in the future to become historic pioneers. Pilgrims on the Mayflower didnt make it around Plymouth Rock for the return trip, they came here to settle America. And a lot of them lost their lives, but they pioneered what we have today. And as a military man among many, I pioneered the things that have kept our nation vibrant and alive, and optimistic. We need to instill optimism and excitement, for our children.

Aside from the romantic idea of having humans living on another planet, one key benefit of a mission to Mars is the amount of science that could be performed. With the recent discovery that liquid water is still present on the surface today, albeit with some issues regarding actually visiting those locations due to the risk of contamination, settlers could greatly advance our understanding of Mars, far more than has been possible so far and not just by going down to the surface themselves, but by controlling rovers on the groundin real-time from orbit.

Right now the time delay of controlling [robots] on the surface is maybe 20 minutes one way, said Aldrin. So we send instructions one day ahead, conservative instructions. A program manager of many, many rovers said that, what rovers [like Spirit and Opportunity] did in five years could have been done in one week if we had human intelligence orbiting Mars giving them instructions with less than a second time-delay.

In July 1969, Aldrin (pictured) and Neil Armstrong became the first humans to walk on the Moon. NASA.

But while Mars has been receiving an enormous amount of attention recently, some have bemoaned the lack of missions to other destinations including Europa, which is thought to harbor a vast ocean beneath its surface containing more water than is on Earth. But are we gonna send scuba divers there so we can dig a hole in a couple of miles of ice and see whats underneath? said Aldrin.

There may be indications of life itd be nice to know that, he continued.But it isnt essential. It shouldnt be done at the expense of inspiring what is in front of us to do, that can return unimaginable benefits in terms of historic achievements thatll be remembered hundreds of years into the future. The legacy of the president who makes the commitment [to go to Mars] will be far beyond his term. He doesnt have to be around, his name will still be around, itll have the legacy for thousands of years, more than Queen Isabella, more than Columbus. Indeed, JFK is still remembered more than 50 years on for delivering his powerful speech at Rice Universityin 1961 that committed the U.S. to landing on the Moon.

As to whether Aldrin himself would have liked to have gone to Mars, he said his time has passed, although he would like to see virtual reality on Mars in the future so that everyone could experience it. Ive been looking at some [virtual reality devices] recently, and man, it looks like youre there, he said. But will I be an outdoorsman, a boy scout on Mars? No, Im an innovator, a creative guy. And besides, I wont be alive when all that happens. But my great grandsons might be.

First image in text: Cover of Welcome to Mars, on sale now. National Geographic.
Second image in text: Buzz Aldrin’s Get Your Ass to Mars campaign is raising funds to promote space education for kids.

Read more: http://www.iflscience.com/space/buzz-aldrin-tells-iflscience-why-he-really-really-wants-us-colonize-mars

Science Goals For UK Lunar Mission Outlined

Last month, exciting plans for the UK’s first trip to the Moon, Lunar Mission One, were announced at the Royal Society in London. Now, the project has released detailed information on its scientific goals for the mission, which has two main strands: assessing the feasibility of establishing a permanently manned base on the Moon, and drilling through the surface to further our knowledge of the origins of the Moon and the Earth.

Although there have already been more than 50 expeditions to the Moon, there is plenty to be gleaned from this newly proposed mission. That’s because no one has ever ventured to the Moon’s South Pole, which is of particular interest because it is home to the largest and oldest impact crater on the Moon, the South Pole-Aitken (SPA) basin. With a diameter of 2,500 kilometers (1,550 miles), this giant crater covers almost a quarter of the Moon. Scientists think that fragments of the SPA impact may still exist at the site which could be used to date the basin, which is a key event in the satellite’s history.

Project members have yet to pick a spot for touchdown from a proposed list, but the majority of the data will be obtained by drilling a borehole at the landing site, which will be about the size of a football stadium. The goal is to drill to a depth of at least 20 meters, which is around 10 times further than anyone has gone before, but they could potentially go down to 100 meters. Samples will be retrieved for analysis on the craft’s onboard laboratory, and instruments will also be placed within the hole.

Drilling this deep will give scientists access to 4.5 billion year old lunar rock that was thrown up by large asteroid impacts from several kilometers below the surface. Studying these samples should give scientists the exciting opportunity to further our understanding of the origins and early history of the Moon, which is thought to have been born when proto-Earth collided with a Mars-sized planetary body called Theia. By analyzing the geological composition of these deep samples, scientists may come closer to determining whether the Moon and our planet truly share a common origin.

The other strand of the project will be to assess whether the Moon is suitable for the establishment of a permanently manned base for space exploration, something scientists have been contemplating for the last 50 years. Space agencies could possibly one day launch rockets from such a base, which would be an economically attractive option since the gravity is weaker on the Moon than the Earth, meaning less energy is required for launch. Furthermore, a radio telescope could be set up at the base to observe distant galaxies, and since the South Pole is largely shielded from interference from Earth’s broadcast transmissions, this area could represent an ideal spot.

The project comes with a £500 million ($784 million) price tag, the majority of which is hoped to be raised through crowdfunding with Kickstarter. If the necessary £600,000 ($950,000) can be raised by next week, the project can move forward and planning can commence. So far, an impressive £476,000 has been raised. 

[Via Lunar Mission One, BBC News and The Independent]

Read more: http://www.iflscience.com/space/science-goals-uk-lunar-mission-outlined

Why Rosetta Is The Greatest Space Mission Of Our Lifetime

With only a week to go before the Rosetta spacecraft drops its Philae lander onto the surface of comet 67P, I wonder whether there will be another space mission in my lifetime that is so inspiring. Part of what has been so impressive is the length of time this mission has taken to finally get to the comet – 20 years since planning began (when I was still in high school), ten years since launch (when I was studying for my first degree). I feel very lucky that I am now employed as a space scientist at a time when all this work is coming to fruition.

Rosetta has now reached the bizarrely shaped rubber-duck comet and it has spent three months mapping its surface in the hope of finding a suitable spot to place its Philae lander. This is a huge feat in itself. It is the first time a spacecraft has entered into orbit around a comet, which is a celestial body with almost no gravity.

The images Rosetta has sent back have allowed us to learn so much about this never-before-seen world. The European Space Agency (ESA) can already be proud of its achievements so far.

The Philae lander – packed with a science laboratory, harpoons and even ovens – gives the ESA a chance to do more. The hope is that Philae will help answer some of the most basic questions about our existence.

The original ambition for Rosetta was for it to be a sample-return mission: land on a comet and bring back samples to analyse on Earth. But the crippling costs of achieving this meant that it had to be scaled back: how about we just land on a speeding comet instead?

This strategy may cost less overall, but it wasn’t going to be much easier. On November 12, when Philae attempts to land, all manner of things can go wrong. The gravity of 67P is so small that Philae could hit the surface, bounce off and be lost in the emptiness of space.

We will nervously wait for news about Philae’s fate. After Philae leaves Rosetta, it will take about seven hours to reach the comet surface. If Rosetta achieves the comet landing, I believe it will be the most exciting space mission of my lifetime. (Of course, I wasn’t alive for the Apollo landings which will remain the most amazing space missions in history).

One could argue that there are many other missions in recent years that are just as impressive, if not more so, than Rosetta. It is usually the ones with the big backing from the US space agency NASA, such as the Curiosity rover mission that spring to mind. However, most recently I was impressed with the Indian mission, Mangalyaan, that entered into Mars orbit this year after a ten-month journey – and with a tiny budget.

However, I have to admit, it sneaked up on me – I wasn’t really aware of Mangalyaan until a couple of days before the orbit was announced. This is where we find that a bit of quality promotion goes a long way.

Just take NASA’s Curiosity as an example, which continuously shares images of Mars’ surface. Even before it reached there, videos such as such as the famous seven minutes of terror captivated audiences. The mission itself is of course impressive. Mars is about 150 times farther from the Earth than the moon. And the crazy sky-crane landing, getting it down successfully I was sure it would end in failure. But it didn’t. The science continues to beamed back by the rover.

ESA has started to play catch-up with NASA and its most recent video release, called “Ambition”, really took me by surprise. It is definitely something out of the ordinary: a big-budget-style sci-fi movie, with famous actors, such as Aidan Gillen of Game of Thrones fame, and a subtle yet powerful message relating to the Rosetta mission.

Whatever the movie cost to make, it was definitely worth it. We desperately need to inspire the space scientists of the future – and I spend a lot of time in schools chatting to children about their life ambitions in the hope they might want to follow me on a science career path.

My main words of advice to these children are similar to those that most stuck with me: aim high. I wanted to be an astronaut, so maybe I haven’t made it there (yet), but being a space scientist in such amazing times, when we are attempting to land on the surface of a comet, is not a bad second best.

The ConversationNatalie Starkey receives funding from the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC).

The Conversation

Read more: http://www.iflscience.com/space/why-rosetta-greatest-space-mission-our-lifetime

Congress Considers Nixing NASA Asteroid Mission


A draft authorization bill from the House Science space subcommittee would cap NASA spending at about $16.87 billion for the next two years, prohibit a proposed asteroid retrieval mission, overhaul the agency’s management structure and raise the spending cap for Commercial Crew activities while increasing congressional oversight of the program.

The bill, as Republican lawmakers have been hinting during House Science, Space and Technology Committee hearings all year, also aims to steer the nation’s human spaceflight program back to the moon and provide more money for robotic exploration of the solar system at the expense of NASA’s Earth observation program.

These and other changes were detailed in a copy of the bill, the NASA Authorization Act of 2013, obtained by SpaceNews on June 14. The bill holds NASA to spending levels established by the Budget Control Act of 2011, rather than assuming that Congress and the White House will eliminate sequestration’s across-the-board spending cuts any time soon.

The House Science space subcommittee will discuss the bill in a hearing on June 19. The Senate Commerce Committee, meanwhile, is “not too far behind” its House counterpart in finishing its own version of the next NASA Authorization bill, Ann Zulkowsky, a senior aide in the Democrat-controlled Senate, said June 14 at the Aerospace 2013 conference in Arlington, Va., organized by Women in Aerospace.

Industry sources said the Senate version of the bill does not hold NASA to the sequestered spending limits. One of these sources said the Senate was expected to unveil its authorization bill, which sets policy and spending guidelines for five years rather than two, this week.

Moon Versus Asteroid

The House Science space subcommittee’s bill includes many prescriptions for NASA’s human spaceflight program and would codify that Mars, by way of the lunar surface, is a priority destination for human explorers.

“It is the policy of the United States that the development of capabilities and technologies necessary for human missions to lunar orbit, the surface of the moon, the surface of Mars and beyond shall be the goals of the Administration’s human spaceflight program,” the bill states.

An asteroid retrieval mission, proposed by NASA in April as part of the White House’s 2014 budget request, has no place in that framework, according to the draft bill.

“The Administrator shall not fund the development of an asteroid retrieval mission to send a robotic spacecraft to a near-Earth asteroid for rendezvous, retrieval and redirection of that asteroid to lunar orbit for exploration by astronauts,” the bill states.

There has been a notable lack of enthusiasm for the asteroid mission among some of the Republicans who hold key NASA oversight roles in the House — including House Science Committee Chairman Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) — since the mission was proposed.

The mission would require development of a robotic spacecraft with solar-electric propulsion, and the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle and Space Launch System (SLS) heavy-lift rocket NASA is developing.

There is no funding authorized for a crewed planetary lander or deep-space astronaut habitat in the bill.

Another provision of the draft authorization bill that originated with House Republicans is an overhaul of NASA’s leadership structure. The proposed changes would give Congress greater influence over the selection of the NASA administrator, and give the administrator a six-year term. The NASA administrator is currently a political appointee who serves at the president’s pleasure.

House Republicans led by Rep. John Culberson (R-Texas) included these changes in their Space Leadership Preservation Act (H.R. 823), which was introduced in February and has lingered in committee ever since. That bill was itself a rehash of a similar proposal introduced back in September 2012.

Funding for private spaceships

Also on the human spaceflight front, the draft authorization act the House Science Committee has produced authorizes up to $700 million a year for the Commercial Crew Program, which under the 2010 NASA Authorization Act was cleared for up to $500 million in annual funding.

A signature Obama administration effort, the Commercial Crew Program seeks to get at least one privately developed crew transportation system ready to launch astronauts to the International Space Station by the end of 2017.

NASA in August split $1.1 billion among Boeing Space Exploration of Houston, Sierra Nevada Space Systems of Louisville, Colo., and Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX) of Hawthorne, Calif., to mature competing designs. NASA expects a follow-on award next summer after another funding competition now scheduled to begin around July.

The White House has consistently sought more funding for the Commercial Crew Program than Congress has been willing to give. In 2013, the administration asked for more than $800 million and wound up with $525 million. NASA Administrator Charles Bolden has said repeatedly that Congress must meet the request, or the 2017 flight date will slip.

The House Science Committee’s draft bill calls on NASA to make sure that does not happen. The bill would require the space agency to evaluate the Commercial Crew Program’s prospects for making the 2017 deadline under annual funding levels ranging from $500 million to $800 million. The bill also establishes strict reporting requirements for the Commercial Crew Program, requiring NASA to brief Congress on the effort every 90 days, beginning 180 days after the bill becomes law.

In a related provision, the bill places a $50 million cap — to be exceeded only with permission from Congress — on Space Act Agreements, an alternative procurement mechanism NASA uses routinely. The current round of the Commercial Crew Program is funded with $1.1 billion worth of Space Act Agreements. However, NASA has already said it does not plan to use Space Act Agreements for the program’s next development phase.

An administration official panned the House proposal, calling it a “non-starter.” The official asked for anonymity to speak candidly. Particularly objectionable, this person said, was the proposal to cut Earth Science and kill the asteroid retrieval mission.

The House subcommittee’s bill would authorize about $1.2 billion for Earth Science in 2014 and 2015 — about 30% less than the division’s budget in 2013 and 2012. The main beneficiary from this rebalancing would be the Planetary Science Division, which runs NASA’s robotic solar system exploration program.

Conversely, the bill would authorize planetary science for $1.5 billion in funding in 2014 and 2015, the same level the division received for 2012. NASA has proposed reducing planetary science spending for 2013, funding it at about $1.2 billion even though Congress provided a larger appropriation in the The Full-Year Continuing Appropriations Act of 2013 (H.R. 933), which became law March 26.

Budget Proposal Rundown

Rounded to the nearest million, authorized spending levels for major NASA spending accounts in 2014 and 2015 under the House Science space subcommittee’s proposal are:

  • Top Line: $16.865 billion, about even with NASA’s 2013 appropriation and roughly 5.1% less than what NASA got in 2012 in its last unsequestered spending bill.
  • Exploration Systems: $4.007 billion, 8.9% more than what NASA has proposed spending in 2013 under an operating plan it delivered to Congress in May and 8.1% more than in 2012.
  • Space Operations: $3.818 billion, 2.5% more than the NASA-adjusted level for 2013 and 8.8% less than in 2012.
  • Science Mission Directorate: $4.627 billion, 3.2% more than in 2013 and 8.8% less than in 2012.
  • Cross-Agency Support: $2.6 billion, 4.1% less than 2013 and 13.2% lower than in 2012.
  • Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate: $566 million, 6.8% more than in 2013 and 0.6% less than 2012.
  • Space Technology Mission Directorate: $500 million, 21.9% lower than in 2013 and 12.9% lower than in 2012. The bill would transfer some of the human spaceflight research and development funding now managed by this directorate back to the Exploration Systems account.
  • Education Mission Directorate: $125 million, 7.8% more than in 2013 and 8.2% less than in 2012.
  • Construction and Environmental Compliance and Restoration: $587 million, 9.3% less than 2013 appropriation and 18.7% more than in 2012.
  • Inspector General: $35 million, about flat compared with 2013 and 8.6% lower than 2012.

Visions of the Future of Human Spaceflight

Proposed authorized funding for SLS and Orion in 2014 and 2015 under the House subcommittee’s bill are:

  • SLS: $1.772 billion, of which $1.454 billion would be for rocket development and support work, and $318 million would be for SLS ground systems. That puts vehicle development and support about 6.1% higher than in the 2013 operating plan and 2.9% lower than in 2012. Ground systems, meanwhile, would be authorized for 15.2% less than in 2013 and 4.4% more than in 2012.
  • Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle: $1.2 billion, 7.7% more than in 2013 and even with 2012.
  • The James Webb Space Telescope, meanwhile, would be authorized for $658 million in funding in 2014 and 2015, which are peak development years for the long-delayed, overbudget astrophysics flagship. The proposed authorized level is 4.9% more than 2013 and 26.9% more than in 2012.

This story was provided by Space News, dedicated to covering all aspects of the space industry. Article on SPACE.com.

This article originally published at Space.com

Read more: http://mashable.com/2013/06/20/congress-asteroid-mission/