NASA Paves the way for a Greener Future

Green energy has been on everyone’s minds lately. With climate shift occurring at an alarming rate, America will begin shifting it’s investments towards cleaner, more renewable energy.  Over the years, NASA has  paved the way for alternative energy, creating tens-of-thousands of high-paying jobs along the way.

From being able to predict pot holes to designing a chip that will allow plants never to go without water, NASA has helped a great portion of this country achieve an easier life. Even outside the country, NASA has outfitted our military with stronger body armor, and have even created water-purifying bottles for those without a clean water supply.

Due to NASA’s need for renewable energy on space missions, they’ve been a pioneer in green energy creations. Some of their most important contributions to the world are:

Solar Energy – NASA has pioneered photovoltaic power systems for spacecraft applications. Solar energy technology has been developed for space programs to expand terrestrial applications where no other long term energy sources exist.




Forest Management – A satellite scanning system has been developed that monitors and maps forestation. It detects radiation reflected and emitted from trees.




Oil Spill Control – The concept was invented by Petrol Rem, Inc. of Pittsburgh, Penn. Also, Marshall Space Flight Center and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory helped to design the tiny beeswax balls (microcapsules). These microcapsules made of beeswax are designed so that water can’t get in, but oil can. The microorganisms inside release enzymes that digest the oil when the oil seeps through the shell. Once the balls are full of digested oil, they explode. The microcapsules release enzymes, carbon dioxide and water, all environmentally safe. The residue is even eatable fish food!


Fishing from Orbit – A series of satellites were launched in 1972 by NASA to observe the changing conditions of the earth’s surface. The ability to monitor changes to the earth for a long period of time provides invaluable information such as: preserving wildlife, monitoring air and water pollution, mapping the growth of cities, flood control and more.




Feeding Our World-And Prepping to Feed Other Worlds – Disney and NASA are working together in a unique partnership. They are striving to find ways to use human and industrial waste to provide the ingredients needed for growing edible plants. This technology will be needed for establishing human colonies on other worlds.




Other spin-offs include: Environmental Control Sensors, energy saving air conditioning, air purification, sewage treatment, pollution control and measuring devices, a whale identification method, and a earthquake prediction system. You can find more information about NASA Spinoffs at



Why Should We Spend Money on the NASA Space Program?

NASA budget grapghThe point to spending on the space program, for example, is shown by the timeline of spinoff technologies [1]. I’m preparing the fiscal numbers using the information posted on this blog to look into asking, “What is the financial effect of science and technology funding?”, so the Apollo program is a perfect example for looking into this question. As discussed in the timeline, Apollo led to “cool suits alleviate dangers from high-heat environments and medical conditions, Kidney dialysis machines remove toxic waste from used dialysis fluid, A machine aids physical therapy and athletic development, A stress-free ‘blow molding’ process manufactures athletic shoes, Communities benefit from water purification technology, Manufacturers preserve food through freeze-drying, and Sensors detect hazardous gasses.”

In today’s money, the $20.4 billion spent on the Apollo program is equivalent to $109 billion [2]. If we look at the markets that exist now because of these technologies (attempt to estimate the revenue gained if the technology did not now exist), then the dialysis market brings in $16 billion A YEAR (+, more than that due to secondary effects from increased quality of life) [3], the sports coaching market (which would benefit from a “machine aids athletic development”) brings in $6 billion a year (-, less because an athletic development machine would only lead to changes in part of the market) [4], the physical therapy market brings in $30 billion a year (-, less is attributable to the technology) [5], the athletic shoe market brings in $75 billion a year (-, less) [6], the water purification market brings in $20 billion a year (+, more from secondary effects) [7], and the hazardous gas detection market is $2 billion a year (+, more) [8]. Note that I have not been able to assemble fiscal numbers on all of the technologies listed above because of time constraints to do all the research. Also, the spinoff timeline did not mention that the Apollo program led to the development of the expendable launch vehicle market which is $53 billion over the next 10 years [9].

So finally, we can get our hands on a comparison. $20.4 billion spent in 1970 on the space program translates to somewhere around $154.3 billion dollars _A YEAR_ in technology-based markets. What this roughly indicates is that the cuts in NASA funding is the farming equivalent to eating your seed corn.











NASA’s Four New Lines Of Business Focus On Problem-Solving

This artist’s concept shows an astronaut preparing to use a special tool to take samples from the captured asteroid after it has been relocated to a stable orbit in the Earth-moon system. NASA’s Exploration Surface Systems Office may help develop such tools. Credit: NASA

Engineering is about making dreams a reality. At NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the team in the Engineering and Technology Directorate not only puts those visions on paper, but sees the designs all the way through from development to reality.

This key organization recently aligned its structure around four new lines of business. This fresh approach is designed to bring its functions in line with the spaceport’s efforts to transition from a historically government-only launch facility to an affordable, sustainable, multi-user spaceport for both government and commercial customers. It’s also about meeting the complex challenges facing an increasingly technological world.

“It’s all about being proactive in our current environment,” said Jack Fox, technical assistant for Engineering and Technology’s Lines of Business. “We have many areas of expertise here at Kennedy. We want to engage the emerging multi-users and apply our capabilities to help them accomplish their missions.”

The four new lines of business focus are Exploration Surface Systems, Spaceport and Space Systems Development, Technical Mission Success, and Small Payload Integrated Testing Services, or SPLITS.

Tom Aranyos, Technical Integration manager in NASA’s Fluids and Propulsion Division and leader of the Spaceport and Space System Development line of business, explains that NASA Engineering and Technology is looking for ways to assist other NASA centers, as well as commercial industries.

“We need to listen to what is keeping them up at night and offer assistance and advice on how we can help make them successful,” he said. “Our strategy is to respond to others’ needs by raising our hands and offering to help.”

Fox says that being a multi-user spaceport means Kennedy is transitioning from supporting two or three large programs for long periods of time to supporting multiple customers with numerous, short-term efforts.

“In the past, the bulk of our work focused on supporting programs such as the space shuttle and International Space Station,” he said. “We now are approaching other Kennedy directorates, other NASA centers, industry and academia to establish partnerships for proposing and winning engineering and technology development work.”

In addition to oversight of the lines of business, Fox is responsible for the Exploration Surface Systems line.

“Surface Systems can be either here on Earth or on another planet,” Fox said. “It’s applied technology that, for example, could help upgrade systems on a former shuttle launch pad or be applied to robotically construct a landing site on Mars for a future human expedition.”

Today NASA experts are transforming Launch Pad 39B to support the agency’s new Space Launch System rocket that will take astronauts beyond low-Earth orbit. At the same time, NASA scientists and engineers are using the lessons of how technology was developed during the Apollo era and robotic missions to Mars to develop technologies for future extraterrestrial landings.

“Collecting surface samples or mining for resources on another planet fits into Kennedy’s assigned areas of responsibility,” Fox said. “That would include developing tools for astronauts retrieving rocks and other samples from an asteroid or, later, developing the equipment to mine for resources on Mars.”

The Technical Mission Success line of business is being led by George Hamilton, deputy of Kennedy’s Chief Engineer’s Office. His group is assigned the task to provide expertise that will ensure the success of projects within NASA’s Ground Systems Development and Operations Program, Launch Services Program, Commercial Crew Program and the International Space Station Program.

“We try to match up the right expertise with those needing solutions to any particular problem,” Hamilton said. “Our goal is to also deliver on commitments being made to both government and commercial projects.”

Fox pointed out that the agency’s Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) and Human Exploration Operations Mission Directorate (HEOMD) would be primary customers for the four lines of business. The Game Changing Division in STMD is working to rapidly develop, demonstrate and introduce revolutionary, high-payoff technologies through collaborative partnerships.

“Advanced Exploration Systems is now HEOMD’s primary program for the development of technology to support human space exploration,” he said.

AES is developing prototype systems, demonstrating key capabilities and validating operational concepts for future human and robotic missions beyond Earth orbit such as the Asteroid Redirect Mission.

Spaceport and Space Systems Development covers all typical ground and flight processing support requiring engineering efforts, Aranyos explains. That includes designing and building new hardware, as well as providing the needed controls, software, special testing and technical reviews.

“Space Systems Development also focuses on new expanded territory that Kennedy has just recently started,” he said. “It includes development, qualification and acceptance testing of critical spaceflight hardware and subsystems in collaboration with other NASA centers and commercial aerospace industries.”

An example of such a collaborative effort is a team at Kennedy working with counterparts at the agency’s Goddard Space Flight Center to demonstrate groundbreaking technology to develop satellites that could service and refuel orbiting spacecraft. Engineers in Florida are developing a hypergolic propellant transfer system for a simulated servicing satellite.

Greg Clements, chief of Kennedy’s Control and Data Systems Division, explains that the SPLITS line of business is designed to support three different classes of small payloads.

“We have had previous experience with microsatellites in support of the Launch Services Program and for the International Space Station,” he said. “Recently we have been engaged in launches of small payloads called ‘CubeSats‘ to support education and external partnerships. It is an emerging market with a lot of interest, and we believe that Kennedy can provide support to a growing set of customers both inside and outside of NASA.”

SPLITS is an affordable method of research focusing on three classes of small satellites. Pico-Satellites, or Pico-Sats, are less than 1 kilogram (about 2.2 pounds) in mass. The class called Nano-Sats is between one and 10 kilograms (about 22 pounds) in mass and Micro-Sats, are between 10 and 100 kilograms (about 220 pounds) in weight.

A specialized class of Nano-Sats, called CubeSats, is especially popular in academia. These small spacecraft use a standardized cube-shaped form 10 centimeters (about four inches) in size and one kilogram in weight. One to six of these building block-like packages can be integrated into a CubeSat. Additionally, CubeSat standardization allows for sharing of expertise, simplicity in developing avionics and they are easily deployed. Components also can be re-used for other missions.

In June 2013, a series of CubeSats equipped with an array of sensors took a jarring ride above California’s Mojave Desert on a small rocket to aid student designers in determining if their instruments could survive the rigors of a rocket launch. Built by several different organizations, including a university, a NASA field center and a high school, the spacecraft were 4-inch cubes designed to eventually fly on their own, and focused on a specific experiment related to spaceflight.

The goals of Engineering and Technology’s new four lines of business represent the kind of challenge Aranyos likes.

“I enjoy taking concept ideas and developing implementation plans and guiding efforts to meet our customer expectations,” he said. “If we continue to meet and exceed expectations of our customers, more valuable and rewarding work will continue to flow our way here at Kennedy.”

It is also about making dreams a reality.

“We’re trying to shape the future, but we don’t do that by just creating drawings and throwing it over the fence,” Aranyos said. “We build and fabricate too. A dream doesn’t become a reality until it goes from paper to actual development.”

Boosting NASA’s Budget Will Help Fix Economy: Neil deGrasse Tyson



 Reinvigorating space exploration in the United States will require not only boosting NASA’s budget but also getting the public to understand how pushing the boundaries of the space frontier benefits the country’s innovation, culture and economy, said renowned astronomer Neil deGrasse Tyson.

“Space is a $300 billion industry worldwide,” Tyson said. “NASA is a tiny percent of that. [But] that little bit is what inspires dreams.”

He spoke about how space has influenced culture — ranging from how the fins on early rockets inspired fins on automobiles in the 1950s, to how the Apollo 8 mission’s iconic picture taken in 1968 of Earth rising above the horizon of the moon led to a greater appreciation for our planet and the need to protect it. Yet, many people outside the space community see itas a special interest group, Tyson said.

“Innovation drives economy,” he said. “It’s especially been true since the Industrial Revolution.”

Tyson advocated doubling NASA’s budget — which President Barack Obama set at $17.7 billion in his 2013 federal budget request — and then laid out a different approach to space exploration that he called somewhat “unorthodox.” Rather than focusing on one destination at a time, Tyson promoted building a core fleet of launch vehicles that can be customized for a variety of missions and for a range of purposes.

“We’re kind of doing that now, but let’s do that as the focus,” Tyson said. “One configuration will get you to the moon. Another will get you to a Lagrangian point. Another will get you to Mars.”

Having an available suite of launch vehicles will open up access to space for a wider range of purposes, which will, in turn, benefit the country’s economy and innovation.

Tyson compared it with the country’s system of interstates, which helped connect cities across the country and made travel more efficient.

“When Eisenhower came back from Europe after he saw the [German] autobahn, and how it survived heavy climactic variation and troop maneuvers, he said, ‘I want some of that in my country,'” Tyson explained. “So he gets everyone to agree to build the interstate system. Did he say, ‘you know, I just want to build it from New York to L.A., because that’s where you should go?’ No. The interstate system connects everybody in whatever way you want. That’s how you grow a system.”

Furthermore, this type of capability can be used for a myriad of purposes, including military endeavors, science missions, commercial expeditions and space tourism.

“Whatever the needs or urges — be they geopolitical, military, economic — space becomes that frontier,” Tyson said. “Not only do you innovate, these innovations make headlines. Those headlines work their way down the educational pipeline. Everybody in school knows about it. You don’t have to set up a program to convince people that being an engineer is cool. They’ll know it just by the cultural presence of those activities. You do that, and it’ll jump-start our dreams.”


How exactly does Science Grow Jobs?



Technology Needed
When we send astronauts into space, Scientists and Engineers are hired to create solutions and advance the possibilities of experimentation while in orbit. Each new NASA mission opens up employment for thousands of highly skilled people. The men and women that are accepted for this task are very well compensated, which stimulates our economy.

For example: The Commercial Spaceflight Federations says that an independent study reveals the new NASA Commercial Crew and Cargo Program funding proposed in the space agency’s FY2011 Budget Request will result in an average of 11,800 direct jobs per year over the next five years, nationwide.

Technology Invented
From advanced flight suits to organic biosensors, NASA has invented some incredible technology. Each new mission requires new technology and inventions to achieve the goals we have set in place for space exploration. But when the mission is over, what happens to that technology?

Spinoffs Possible
A NASA spinoff is a technology, originally developed to meet NASA mission needs, that has been transferred to the public and now provides benefits for the Nation and world as a commercial product or service. NASA spinoffs enhance many aspects of daily life, including health and medicine, transportation, public safety, consumer goods, energy and environment, information technology, and industrial productivity. These spinoffs are transferred to the public through various NASA partnerships including licensing, funding agreements, assistance from NASA experts, the use of NASA facilities, and other collaborations between the Agency, private industry, other government agencies, and academia. As of 2012, NASA has documented nearly 1,800 spinoff technologies in the annual NASA Spinoff publication.
[Source: Spinoff.Nasa.Gov]

Jobs Created
A company partners with NASA to create a product. How does that product move from paper to the production line? When a partnership is formed between a company and NASA, the company is allowed to use specific NASA tech in their products. AgriHouse created texting plants using biosensors that astronauts used to sustain agriculture while in space. Well-compensated scientists, engineers, and office personnel are hired to develop, perfect, and market the new product to the public. NASA has over 1,800 spinoffs, which means 1,800 companies have opened their doors to new employees because of the technology NASA licenses out.

NASA Invests in Hundreds of U.S. Small Businesses to Enable Future Missions

Recognizing the critical role of American small businesses and research institutions play as innovation engines for new space technologies that will enable future space exploration, NASA has selected 383 research and technology proposals for negotiations that may lead to contracts worth a combined $47.6 million.

The proposals, from 257 U.S. small businesses and 29 research institutions, are part of NASA’s Small Business Innovation Research Program (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) Program.

“SBIR and STTR projects are at the foundation of America’s future in space and aeronautics,” said Michael Gazarik, associate administrator for Space Technology at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “Innovative ideas explored by our partners in industry and the broader U.S. research community help NASA execute our missions and bring new American products and services to the global technology marketplace. These job-creating NASA investments fuel the innovation engine these small businesses provide to our economy.”

Technologies funded by these NASA innovation programs may one day find their way into journeys across the solar system. NASA is funding proposals to enable in-space transportation for human and robotic missions; new ways to keep astronauts safe on their journey, and innovative ways to keep spacecraft systems fully operational.

Selected proposals also aim to enable landing on, traversing across, and eventually sampling the depths of asteroids, Mars or other distant destinations. Proposed new technologies will help NASA search the sky for planets outside our solar system and study the universe back to the beginning of time.

NASA’s Small Business Innovation Research Program and Small Business Technology Transfer Program fund technologies used here on Earth as well. Projects will help to make entirely new generations of airplanes quieter and more efficient and air traffic management more capable. New space technologies will orbit the Earth, studying our atmosphere, our poles, our oceans, and even our sun, assessing the health of the planet and providing invaluable information about the impacts of climate change.

“These selections are part of NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate investment in new technologies that address several high priority challenges for achieving safe and affordable deep-space exploration,” Gazarik added. “Aligned with NASA’s Space Technology Roadmaps, the agency’s Space Technology Investment Plan and the National Research Council’s recommendations, these focused areas will assure we remain on the cutting edge of advanced space technology. SBIR and STTR technologies provide an early stage foundation across all our thrust areas.”

In November 2013 NASA issued two concurrent solicitations for Phase I proposals. A general solicitation for both SBIR and STTR sought Phase I proposals in response to a broad range of research topics. A second select solicitation for the SBIR program only focused on a small group of topics of particular interest to NASA.

The highly competitive programs are based on a three-phase award system. Phase I feasibility studies evaluate the scientific and technical merit of an idea. Phase I awards are for six months, and a maximum of $125,000. Firms successfully completing Phase I are eligible to submit a Phase II proposal, expanding on the results of the developments in Phase I. Phase III awards consider the commercialization of the results of Phase II and requires the use of private sector or non-SBIR federal funding.

For the general SBIR Phase I solicitation, NASA chose 315 proposals worth approximately $39.1 million. For the second select SBIR Phase I solicitation, NASA chose 36 proposals worth approximately $4.5 million. NASA chose 32 proposals with a value of approximately $4 million for STTR Phase I projects. The three solicitations attracted proposals from 37 states.

Selection criteria included technical merit and feasibility, along with experience, qualifications and facilities. Additional criteria included effectiveness of the work plan and commercial potential and feasibility.

NASA’s Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, Calif., manages the SBIR program for NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate. NASA’s 10 field centers manage individual projects. For more information about NASA’s SBIR program and a complete listing of selected companies, visit:

The two innovative technology programs are part of NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate, which is innovating, developing, testing and flying hardware for use in NASA’s future missions. NASA’s investments in space technology provide the transformative capabilities to enable new missions, stimulate the economy, contribute to the nation’s global competitiveness, and inspire the next generation of scientists, engineers, and explorers. For more information about NASA’s investment in space technology, visit:

NASA operating plan makes final adjustments for fiscal year 2014

NASA has released a summary of its fiscal year 2014 operating plan, which details any changes to spending for programs the agency has made (with the approval of Congress) from the final FY14 appropriations bill. As the table below shows, the changes are very minor; last year, NASA made bigger changes to adjust spending for agency priorities after the across-the-board cuts of sequestration went into effect. (The operating plan also provides a breakout of spending within Space Operations, which was omitted from the omnibus spending bill.)

All figures in Billions

Account FY14 Omnibus FY14 Ops Plan Difference
SCIENCE $5,151.20 $5,148.20 ($3.00)
– Earth Science $1,826.00 $1,824.90 ($1.10)
– Planetary Science $1,345.00 $1,343.40 ($1.60)
– Astrophysics $668.00 $678.30 $10.30
– JWST $658.20 $658.20 $0.00
– Heliophysics $654.00 $643.30 ($10.70)
SPACE TECHNOLOGY $576.00 $576.00 $0.00
AERONAUTICS $566.00 $566.00 $0.00
EXPLORATION SYSTEMS $4,113.20 $4,113.20 $0.00
– SLS/Orion $3,115.20 $3,115.20 $0.00
– Commercial Spaceflight $696.00 $696.00 $0.00
– Exploration R&D $302.0 $302.00 $0.00
SPACE OPERATIONS $3,778.00 $3,776.40 ($1.60)
– ISS n/a $2,964.10 NA
– Space and Flight Support n/a $812.30 NA
EDUCATION $116.60 $116.60 $0.00
CROSS AGENCY SUPPORT $2,793.00 $2,793.00 $0.00
CONSTRUCTION $515.00 $519.60 $4.60
INSPECTOR GENERAL $37.50 $37.50 $0.00
TOTAL $17,646.50 $17,646.50 ($3.10)

As (who requested the FY14 operating plan from NASA) notes, the operating plan still fully funds the SOFIA airborne observatory even though NASA is seeking to end funding for it in its FY15 budget proposal. However, there’s no guarantee that all of this funding would be used for operations of SOFIA: NASA officials warned in March that the $12 million proposed for FY15 might not be sufficient to cover the costs of mothballing the 747 aircraft

Committee Approves Bipartisan NASA Authorization Act

Washington, D.C. – The Committee on Science, Space, and Technology today approved the NASA Authorization Act of 2014 (H.R. 4412) with unanimous bipartisan support. The bipartisan bill reaffirms Congress’s commitment to space exploration, both human and robotic, and makes clear that human spaceflight to Mars is NASA’s primary goal.

Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas): “Today’s bill ensures that NASA will continue to innovate and inspire. The scientists, engineers and astronauts who find creative and new solutions to the challenges of exploring the universe serve as role models for our students. NASA has accomplished some of the most awe-inspiring and technologically advanced space initiatives in the history of humankind. There is strong, bipartisan support for NASA’s unique role, and the Manager’s Amendment offered today reflects this.”

The bipartisan Manager’s Amendment, offered by Space Subcommittee Chairman Steven Palazzo (R-Miss.) and Ranking Member Donna Edwards (D-Md.), increases the use of the International Space Station for science research, encourages commercial use of space, protects us from the effects of solar flares, helps remove orbital debris, and supports the development of a new space telescope that will detect Earth-sized planets.

Subcommittee Chairman Palazzo: “I would like to thank Chairman Smith, Ms. Edwards, and Ms. Johnson for their efforts in pulling together this agreement, as well as all of our staff who labored over this bill. I look forward to continuing our work to pass this bill on the House floor. I am proud that we are able to put our names on a bipartisan bill for the sake of our nation’s space program, national pride, and our national security.”

The NASA Authorization Act of 2014 continues the consistent guidance Congress has given to NASA for nearly a decade by reaffirming a stepping stone approach to exploration in a go-as-you-can-afford-to-pay manner by developing an exploration roadmap.  It supports the development on the Space Launch System and the Orion Crew Vehicle to push the boundaries of human exploration, and focuses NASA’s efforts to develop a capability to access low Earth orbit and the International Space Station so that America can once again launch American astronauts on American rockets from American soil.

The bill also supports a healthy science directorate that reflects the input from the scientific community and an aeronautics research directorate that contributes to our nation’s aerospace economy. 


NASA 2014 Budget: More for Asteroids, Less for Planets and Education

The White House released its requested federal budget yesterday, which includes NASA funding. Trying to figure it all out is a little difficult—NASA does a lot of different things—but I have some overall impressions. I’ll note that I’m basing what follows on the released budget, a presentation by NASA, and my own experience working for companies that contracted with NASA. I’ll also note what follows are my opinions based on what I know. If more info comes along, I’ll happily re-examine my own conclusions. Don’t consider this final!

Keep in mind, too, this is a budgetrequest: The President submits this to Congress, who will then haggle. Also bear in mind that NASA’s share of the entire federal budget is a mere 0.5 percent. For every dollar spent by the government, cut a penny in half. That’s what goes to NASA.

The Whole Schmeer

The total proposed NASA budget for Fiscal Year 2014 (which starts Oct. 1, 2013) is $17.7 billion. This is $55 million lower than 2012, and $170 lower than 2013. That’s a drop of roughly only 1 percent, which these days can be considered holding steady.

That’s the overall budget, but the devil’s in the details, of course. With a fixed budget and changing needs, some things win and others lose. Clearly, the specifics are what are important, because some have changed a lot.

What follows are some specifics, and my rant opinion on them. These numbers are from NASA’s official release about the budget. They also have some details in the budget summary.

Asteroid retrieval

asteroid capture mission
Proposed asteroid capture and retrieval mission concept.

The splashiest news is that NASA is indeed funding a mission to find, snag, bag, and bring a 5-7 meter wide asteroid to an Earth-accessible orbit. This is a fascinating idea, funded at $105 million in FY14 (which is starter money for the multiple-year project). The breakdown goes like this: finding near-Earth asteroids in general gets an addition of $20 million (on top of $20 they already got in the last budget), and of the $45 million allocated generally to space technology in the budget, $38 million of it goes to investigating an electric propulsion drive using solar power, which would be the main drive of the asteroid mission. An additional $7 million goes to general asteroid hazard mitigation technology. Finally, $40 million will go toward figuring out to how nab “uncooperative” targets—asteroids that spin or tumble—which will be a major engineering task of the mission.

In a perfect world I would be all for this. However, as I said, NASA has a fixed budget, so that money has to come from somewhere… and the total mission cost over the next few years will be $2.6 billion (not including the cost to send a crew up there to poke at it). That’s a lot. It doesn’t look like the White House will increase NASA funding for this, so that money will have to be found. *

Planetary Science

Last year, the President asked for a brutal $300 million dollar cut to planetary sciences. In this year’s budget, planetary science gets $1.2 billion, which Casey Dreier from The Planetary Society reports maintains that huge hit (even though Congress originally approved more money for it).

In the press conference, NASA chief Charles Bolden noted that some missions need less money now—Curiosity, for example, is on Mars and so does not need as much in its budget as it once did. That’s true enough, but doesn’t explain the huge drop in funding. As Dreier points out, it looks like there’s some robbing-Peter-to-pay-Paul going on, which I expected. Missions and other work got moved around a bit, so now planetary science gets a couple of projects that used to be under other umbrellas*, and has to pay for them. In terms of actual money going to planetary work, they get a pretty big cut.

There is some good news in there: Included is seed money for the 2020 launch of another Mars rover, and the launch of the MAVEN Mars atmospheric mission in 2014. They’ll also be launching OSIRIS-Rex in 2016, an exciting mission to near-Earth asteroid 1999 RQ36, which includes a sample return in 2023.

But overall, cutting planetary science is crazy. It’s one of the leading faces NASA has with the public—people gathered in Times Square to watch Curiosity land, for criminy sake!—and those missions are among the most successful scientifically. We need more of them, not fewer.

I know NASA has a fixed budget, I know everyone is screaming “Austerity!”, and I know the government wants to shave every dime it can. But investing in this kind of science always pays off. Also, the public loves it, so it’s a political win.

Unless I’m missing something, cutting funding of planetary research is nuts. Keep your eyes on The Planetary Society; they’ve been quite vocal about all this.


Continuing the bad news, education takes a big hit, going from $137 million to $94 million, a 33 percent cut. Some of this is in the form of consolidating NASA’s educational efforts with the Department of Education. Right now, a lot of NASA education is already centralized, but quite a bit is done on a mission basis; each mission has a percentage of its money go toward education. This new consolidation idea wasn’t spelled out completely in the budget release or the press conference. While saving money sounds like a good idea, what happens to those folks working on mission E/PO? Will they simply lose their jobs, or will they be told to take new jobs and move, or what?

I imagine a lot of E/PO folks are very worried right now. I wonder what Congress will say to this cut?

Crewed Flight

NASA is currently building the Orion capsule to be used to take humans into space. This has been “fully funded”, with the first planned uncrewed launch in 2014. The Space Launch System (SLS)—a heavy-lift replacement for the Shuttle—is also fully funded. The Shuttle funding has of course been zeroed out, so in essence that’s like $600 million back into the NASA ecosystem, which helps.

Artist’s illustration of an SLS launch. Click to enlaunchenate.

Image credit: NASA/MSFC

Right now, the plan is for SLS to have its first test flight in 2017, and a crewed launch in 2021 (the mission to take humans to the asteroid towed into near-Earth space would be planned for 2025 or so). I’ll note some members of Congress are openly advocating for a return to the Moon around that time as well.

I wonder, though. The SLS is a good idea in principle, but I worry. The Shuttle was supposed to launch every two weeks and be much cheaper than comparable rockets. It never came close to that. Commercial space ventures can do this sort of thing much cheaper than NASA can; SpaceX is demonstrating that, and there are several other contenders.

So do we really need the SLS? My feelings run parallel to my friend and space historian Andy Chaikin’s; NASA needs to be very aware of costs and need. I like the idea of having a backup to commercial rockets, but when it costs so much, that makes me uneasy. Constellation, the first follow-up proposed for the Shuttle, overran its budget and got so far behind schedule President Obama canceled it (and SLS took its place).

If NASA’s budget were upped by, say, two or three billion bucks, and it’s demonstrated that the SLS is under control and needed, I’d support all this happily. But with the budget the way it is, and a new very expensive mission to an asteroid is added in, I wonder over these big expenditures for a new rocket.

…And The Rest

There’s a host of other stuff in the budget. James Webb Space Telescope will see an extra $140 million over last year, which is expected to meet its launch date of October 2018. Commercial space funding goes from about $400 to $800 million, which is expected and welcome. I like the idea of partnering with business for “routine” launches since, as I pointed out above, they can do it cheaper (and be more flexible about it, too). This also reduces reliance on having to pay Russia for launches.

I was glad to see Earth Science go from $1.76 billion to $1.85 billion, with lots of climate missions. NASA (partnering with NOAA) is on the forefront of investigating climate change, and more power (and dollars) to them for it.

There’s a lot more in the budget, but for now I think that’s enough. This budget is preliminary and therefore bound to change quite a bit. To be honest: it better change. I’m happy with some bits, but very unhappy with others. It always seems to come down to not having quite enough money to do what needs to be done, and to be frank, that’s dumb. NASA’s budget is a pittance compared to many other agencies and the federal budget as a whole. It costs a lot just to get NASA able to do the basics, and what it costs to do all this right is only a little bit more. This budget, like every NASA budget for the past several years, strikes me as penny wise and pound foolish. It’s like buying a car and saying you can’t afford to put gas in it.

Perhaps Penny4NASA has the right idea: Increase NASA’s budget to a full penny per dollar—1 whole percent of the budget—and see where they can take us. I’m betting it’s a long, long way.

NASA receives $17.65b FY2014 Budget. Just short of the $18b proposal.

NASA logoThe NASA budget for the current fiscal year is finally taking shape,according to a January 14, 2014 post on Space Policy Online. NASA will get to spend $17.65 billion on its various operations and activities, far more than the $16.1 billion that many feared under sequestration but a little short of the $18 billion that some in Congress desired.

The rough breakdown of NASA spending looks like this:

“$4,113 million for exploration, of which

$696 million is for commercial crew, with $171 million available only after the Administrator certifies that the program has undergone an independent benefit-cost analysis

$1,197 million is for Orion

$1,918 million is for Space Launch System (SLS) of which $1,600 million is for launch vehicle development and $318 million is for exploration ground systems

$302 million is for exploration research and development

$5,151 million for science, of which $80 million is for pre-formulation or formulation activities for a Europa mission, and the James Webb Space Telescope’s development costs remain capped at $8 billion

$576 million for space technology

$566 million for aeronautics

$3,778 million for space operations

$116.6 million for education, of which

$18 million is for EPSCOR and

$40 million is for Space Grant

$2,793 million for Cross Agency Support

$515 million for Construction and Environmental Compliance and Restoration

$37.5 million for Inspector General”

According to Space Politics there are a number of provisions within the omnibus spending bill the affects NASA policy.

For instance, while planetary science gets only a modest increase over the administration’s request, Congress presses NASA to accelerate the selection of the next Discovery class mission, with an announcement of opportunity no later than May 1, 2014 and a selection of one or more missions in September, 2015.

The bill notes that NASA needs to conduct an independent cost/benefit analysis for the commercial crew program that takes into account the cost to the federal government and the expected life of the International Space Station. A little uncertainty as to the latter has arisen thanks to the recent announcement of the extension of the ISS to 2024.

NASA prohibits NASA from diverting funds from the Space Launch System program to engineering or other activities unrelated to SLS.

Under space operations, “The bill sets aside $100 million for a satellite servicing program, and the report includes a provision directing NASA to propose policies or legislation that address intellectual property concerns regarding ISS research.”

Finally the bill extends the commercial launch liability indemnification provision for another three years.