In a shocking twist, NASA got more money from Congress than it asked for
If you follow national politics, then you probably know that the fight over the Federal Budget is usually about as enjoyable as a swift kick to the nuts, while you are on fire and falling off a cliff. While being shot at.
It’s even worse for the agencies waiting to hear how much federal funding they received – if any. The last decade has been especially heartbreaking for NASA, which has seen its budget cut again and again, as its services have been seen by many as “unessential,” and therefore expendable.
In a shockingly rare twist though, the 2016 budget not only includes everything that NASA asked for, the space agency is actually going to receive a significantly larger amount than it requested – $750 million more. For a government agency to receive more money than it requested borders on unheard of, at least these days. Given how hard NASA has had to fight for even a penny over the last few years, that makes it even more exceptional.
The total allotment for NASA makes up just 0.55-percent of the total budget. That’s a step up from the 0.5-percent of earlier this decade – an all time low for NASA – but it’s still a long, long way from the 4.5-percent of the budget NASA claimed during the Apollo days.
NASA will receive $19.3 billion for the fiscal year 2016, nearly $1.3 billion more than it received in 2015. The funding is part of the recent $1.8 trillion budget, which was signed into law before Christmas. So no Congressional take-backsies.
The NASA budget is broken up into several specific groups, so it isn’t like the agency can just spend the money on golden toilets and hand crafted candy in the vending machines. It’s not a startup.
The increase in funding means that several projects that have been in danger of being axed will receive the money they need. That includes the Hubble replacement (the James Webb Space Telescope, set for launch in 2018), new planetary missions (including one to Europa, set to launch in 2022), and the restart of production of the fuel Plutonium-238 for the first time in 30 years.
Mars and lunar probes will also receive some funds, as will the continuation of its Earth sciences work, including the study of the climate. Intriguingly, there is also $55 million earmarked for a deep space habitation.
One of the many challenges facing humans that will travel to Mars is finding a habitat that can take them there without anyone going crazy (or dying). The same type of habitat could also be used for a lunar colony, improving the International Space Station, and more. According to the budget, NASA is expected to have a working prototype by 2018.
One of the biggest chunks of the budget is meant for the ISS. NASA received $5 billion specifically for the space station, $1 billion more than it asked for. Part of that includes money for Boeing and SpaceX development, in order to end NASA’s dependence on the Russians to send crews to the ISS.
The new Space Launch System (SLS) initiative also received $2 billion. The SLS is the new rocket system meant for heavy lifting that will take crews beyond Earth’s orbit to the moon, asteroids, and eventually Mars. The SLS rocket is expected to see its first launch in 2018, and it is expected to send its first crew into space in the new Orion spacecraft in 2021.
“By working with American companies to get our astronauts to the ISS, NASA is able to focus on game-changing technologies, the Orion spacecraft and the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket that are geared toward getting astronauts to deep space,” NASA Administrator Charles Bolden wrote on his blog.
This is hopefully the sign of an upward trend in NASA’s budget, but it will need a whole lot more in order to reach its goal of landing people on Mars in 2030 or so. Still, it’s a good sign – at least until the next major political fight over the budget.