In the past, it has seemed that NASA often drew the short straw when it came to budget allocations. But it turns out that they were in for a nice surprise this year when the House of Representatives passed its $1.1 trillion spending, or “CRomnibus,” bill last Thursday. The federal space agency will be getting a much appreciated 2% rise from next year, receiving a respectable $18.01 billion.
This very generous figure is actually around $550 million more than the President’s request for 2015, and $364 million more than NASA received last year. Impressively, the increases that various space programs will be receiving come without slashing others.
Among those feeling flush is the planetary sciences division, which will receive $1.44 billion; $160 million more than originally requested and tantalizingly close to the $1.5 billion recommended by The Planetary Society. This money will help kickstart design efforts for the Mars 2020 rover and will also see the continued support of other space probes, such as the Red Planet’s Opportunity rover that’s been exploring since 2004 and the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter.
Of special note within the allocation for planetary science is the proposed mission to Jupiter’s icy moon Europa, which will be getting a boost of $118 million. That’s almost 700% more than the $15 million requested. Although this mission is not yet in existence, the small amount originally requested in the President’s budget was to study low-cost concepts. Although $118 million won’t get us to the satellite, which is thought to be the most likely candidate to host alien life in our solar system, it’s certainly more than a kick in the teeth and will help lay the groundwork for the ambitious project.
Other worthy winners are human spaceflight endeavors, comprising the combination of the Space Launch System rocket and Orion crew capsule, which will receive a grand total of $2.9 billion, almost 20% more than the total requested. The astrophysics division has also been given an impressive $685 million, which will sustain the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) program. This project uses a modified Boeing 747 with an IR telescope to peer into space from the stratosphere.
A few divisions were also inevitably stung by cuts, such as Space Technology Development which is due to be allocated $109 million less than requested. However, that’s still an increase from the amount allocated last year, which is a step in the right direction.
Overall, this is certainly a winning situation for NASA, which will lead to more space science and ultimately a better understanding of the universe we live in.