Thursday, January 18, 2018

$17.9 billion funding plan for NASA would boost planetary science

The House Appropriations Committee recommended $17.9 billion in funding for NASA on Thursday, significantly boosting planetary science programs at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and continuing operation of a flying telescope.

However, the committee also expressed doubts about the feasibility of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's proposed plan to capture an asteroid and tow it into orbit around the moon. Because of this, the committee said that funding for the Asteroid Redirect Mission should be "carefully constrained."

The 2015 funding proposal is $250 million more than the current year and $435 million more than what was requested by the White House. A committee report says it allows NASA to continue development of its manned Orion spacecraft and heavy-lift Space Launch System, which could carry astronauts to Mars, or an asteroid.

It also commits "substantial resources" to the development of the so-called Commercial Crew Program, whereby private industry will help ferry astronauts to the International Space Station instead of using Russian Soyuz spacecraft.

But advocates of space exploration say the funding proposal is notable for a significant increase in support for planetary science.

The Orion, SLS and CCP programs account for $4.2 billion of the appropriation, while another $5.2 billion would be directed to science programs. Of that latter sum, $1.45 billion is earmarked for planetary science — roughly $170 million more than was requested by the president's budget office.

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