Mikulski Will Support Asteroid Initiative, Not Sure About Orion, Planetary Requests
Speaking to the Maryland Space Business Roundtable today, Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said that she will support President Obama's new asteroid retrieval initiative, but expressed concern about the request for the Orion spacecraft and planetary exploration.
Applauding the FY2014 request of $17.7 billion for NASA overall, which she said was a "$200 million increase over last year ...we're going to keep that," she went on to note the President's proposal to capture an asteroid and said "we support him on that." She quickly added, however, that she is concerned about the proposed cut to Orion and stressed the reality that, with Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) as vice chairman of the full committee, it was not politically possible to cut that program. Throughout her talk she praised Shelby for working with her in a bipartisan manner to get the final FY2013 Continuing Resolution (CR) passed and their effective working relationship over many years.
She is pleased that the request for earth science is an increase of $80 million, but complained about what she characterized as a reduction for planetary exploration and said "we have to look at that." According to her calculations, "planetary science" was reduced $283 million in the FY2014 request and "I know that went into Mars robotics." The robotics Mars program is part of planetary exploration, so her meaning was not clear.
Semi-seriously, she said she always asks three questions about budget requests: "what do we need to do for the nation, what do we need to do for Maryland, and ... what did you say we were going to do for Maryland?"
Mikulski restated her opposition to the sequester, which remains in place through FY2021 based on the Budget Control Act of 2011. The final FY2013 CR that she sheparded included the sequester, however -- a 5 percent cut to NASA that cost the agency over $1 billion, though NASA seems to be ignoring it in discussions of its FY2014 request. NASA has not released figures showing what the agency actually got in FY2013, the current fiscal year, making Mikulski's comparisons of what the agency got last year versus its request for FY2014 all the more obscure. The upshot is that she is concerned about the amount of funding requested for planetary science and is warning NASA not to cut the Orion program.
Mikulski ascended to chairmanship of the full Senate Appropriations Committee in December following the death of Senator Daniel Inouye (D-HI). In addition to chairing the full committee, she continues to chair the Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) subcommittee, which funds not only NASA, but NOAA. Today she stressed the need to find a replacement for Jane Lubchenco as head of NOAA. Lubchenco left in February. Mikulski also emphasized that the National Weather Service (part of NOAA) "must be the best in the world" and create a computer model that will make Europe's look "wimpy." It was the European weather model that correctly forecast Hurricane Sandy making a right turn into New Jersey and New York.
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