Civil Space Activities
Last Updated ( 15-Jun-2013 06:21 PM )
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The 1958 National Aeronautics and Space Act created the National Aeronautics and Space Administration to conduct a civil space program, while assigning military space activities to the Department of Defense.
Over the past five decades, other U.S. government agencies have taken leadership roles in various aspects of civil space activities, but NASA remains by far the largest and most visible U.S. civil space agency. Others with significant roles in civil space include:
Other agencies also have roles in the space program. The President submits to Congress an annual Aeronautics and Space Report of the President that provides funding and programmatic information about all U.S. Government agencies involved in space activities. The most recent version is for fiscal year (FY) 2008.
NASA conducts both aeronautics and space activities. This website is devoted to space policy and thus does not discuss NASA's aeronautics programs as critical as they are to the nation. For information on NASA's aeronautics programs, visit the website of NASA's Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate.
NASA is headquartered in Washington, D.C. and has nine field centers around the country: Ames Research Center (Mountain View, CA); Dryden Flight Research Center (Palmdale, CA); Glenn Research Center (Cleveland, OH); Goddard Space Flight Center(Greenbelt, MD), which also operates Wallops Flight Facility (Wallops Island, VA), the Goddard Institute of Space Studies (New York, NY) and the Independent Verification and Validation facility in Fairmont, WV ; Langley Research Center (Langley, VA); Johnson Space Center (Houston, TX), which also operates White Sands Test Facility (White Sands, NM); Kennedy Space Center (Cape Canaveral, FL); Marshall Space Flight Center (Huntsville, AL); and Stennis Space Center (in South Mississippi). Many consider the Jet Propulsion Laboratory(Pasadena, CA) as another NASA center, but it is a federally funded research and development center (FFRDC) operated for NASA by the California Institute of Technology. Nonetheless, NASA is usually referred to as having 10 centers around the country, in addition to its headquarters in Washington, D.C.
For FY2009, NASA received $17.8 billion in the FY2009 Omnibus Appropriations Act (compared to the $17.6 requested by President Bush). In addition, Congress added $1 billion for NASA in FY2009 in the stimulus bill (America's Recovery and Reinvestment Act), bringing the total funds available to NASA in FY2009 to $18.8 billion.
For FY2012, NASA requested $18.7 billion, the same as the amount appropriated for FY2010 and slightly more than what it received for FY2011. Congress appropriated $17.8 billion, although an across-the-board rescission reduced that by $30 million for a final total of $17.77 billion. This was a compromise between the $16.8 billion recommended by the House Appropriations Committee and the $17.9 billion passed by the Senate. NASA's appropriation is in P.L. 112-55, a bill that includes appropriations for agenices in the Agriculture, Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS), and Transportation-Housing and Urban Development (T-HUD) bills.
The debate over the FY2012 NASA budget request mirrored the debate from FY2011. The Obama Administration and Congress remained at odds over the future of the human space flight program. The bipartisan leadership of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee and its Science and Space Subcommittee was particularly strong in criticizing the Obama Administration's FY2012 NASA budget request because they believe it contravenes the compromise reached in the 2010 NASA Authorization Act (P.L. 111-267). They believe they made it clear that the priority was for NASA to develop a new Space Launch System (SLS) and Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV), while also permitting NASA to financially assist commercial companies develop commercial crew space systems. The FY2012 budget request, however, asked for more money than was authorized for commercial crew and less money than was authorized for the SLS and MPCV.
In the final appropriations bill, Congress increased the level of funding for SLS and MPCV, and approximately cut in half the requested funding for commercial crew. A significant cut was also made to NASA's technology development programs. Congress increased funding for NASA's troubled James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) program, which is severely over budget and behind schedule. The House Appropriations Committee recommended terminating the program when it marked up the CJS appropriations bill (H. Rept. 112-169), but the Senate Appropriations Committee took the opposite approach (S. Rept. 112-78) and added money so the telescope could be launched in 2018 instead of years later (it was supposed to launch in 2013). The Senate position prevailed in conference. Overall, NASA received about a four percent cut below its FY2011 funding level, or a five percent cut from its FY2012 request.
The increasingly austere budget environment is making it difficult for all government agencies that are part of the "discretionary" budget. That includes most of the agencies with which the public is familiar, including all the cabinet-level departments (such as the Department of Defense) and independent agencies like NASA. The drive to cut the deficit by reining in federal spending has become the crucial topic in Washington politics. How NASA will be able to afford a new crew space transportation system of its own while helping commercial companies build their systems, as well as pay for the scientific and aeronautics research that also is part of NASA's portfolio, will be challenging.
NASA'S FY2013 BUDGET
For FY2013, President Obama requested $17.711 billion for NASA, slightly less than the $17.770 billion the agency received for FY2012. See our fact sheet for more information on the composition of the NASA budget request. How much the agency got is still uncertain even as this is written on June 15, 2013. Congress finally passed the FY2013 appropriations bill on March 21, 2013, but the figures shown in the bill can be misleading because they were subject to substantial cuts resulting from sequestration and other across-the-board reductions required at the very end of the bill. NASA submitted an operating plan to Congress in May 2013 that shows how it plans to spend the funds it received and must include the total after the reductions were applied, but the operating plan is not public. An estimate is that the agency received about $16.6 billion.
The most controversial aspect of the FY2013 requestwas the reduction in funding for NASA's planetary exploration program. The cuts proposed for FY2013 and the following four years meant that NASA had to withdraw from a cooperative program with the European Space Agency (ESA) to launch two probes to Mars in 2016 and 2018. They were the first in a series of probes over many years -- a "campaign" -- that eventually would lead to returning a sample of Mars to Earth. Probes can be launched to Mars every 26 months when the planets are properly aligned. That long-term commitment apparently was a factor in the reluctance of the Obama Administration to commit to the initial missions in 2016 and 2018. Planetary exploration is popular in Congress and some Membersimmediately criticized the cut. In December 2012, NASA announced that it would launch another Mars mission in 2020 largely using spare parts from the Mars Curiosity mission that is now exploring the planet.
Another controversial matter was NASA's request of $830 million for commercial crew. In FY 2012 it requested $850 million and Congress appropriated only $406 million. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, a strong advocate of the Space Launch System (SLS) that NASA is building at congressional direction, complained that NASA asked for too much money for commercial crew and two little for SLS. Rumors are that the operating plan NASA submitted to Congress in May 2013 allocated more than Congress expected to commercial crew. The operating plan to subject to congressional review, so the answer is still in abeyance as to how much it can spend in FY2013.
NASA's FY2014 BUDGET REQUEST
The Obama Administration is requesting $17.7 billion for NASA, which would keep the agency at level funding if sequestration is not taken into account. That, of course, is the multi-billion dollar question since sequestration is the law of the land (the Budget Control Act of 2011, P.L. 112-25) although both the Administration and Congress are acting as though another solution with be found to deal with the budget deficit. NASA's FY2014 request includes a new twist on the President's directive that NASA send astronauts to an asteroid as the next step in human spaceflight. If approved, NASA would now bring the asteroid to the astronauts -- using a robotic spacecraft to capture and asteroid and redirect it into lunar orbit where the astronauts would visit it. That initiative and other key aspects of the budget request are explain in an April 10, 2013 SpacePolicyOnline.com article.
U.S. civil space policy is set both by presidential directive and in law. The most recent presidential national space policy directive was issued by President Barack Obama on June 28, 2010. It supersedes the policy issued by President George W. Bush in 2006.
Congress has set policy most recently in the 2010 NASA Authorization Act (P.L. 111-267). That and other U.S. domestic space laws, including the 1958 National Aeronautics and Space Law that created NASA, are discussed under the Space Law section of this website.