Money for Earth science programs would be slashed and an asteroid retrieval mission would be scrapped under a NASA reauthorization bill approved by a key House panel Wednesday, Local 6 News partner Florida Today reports.
On a rare party-line vote, the Republican-led House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Space agreed to set the space agency's maximum budget at $16.8 billion a year for fiscal 2014 and fiscal 2015. That's roughly what NASA received this year but considerably less than what Democrats and President Barack Obama are seeking.
The GOP measure now goes to the full committee, where approval is expected.
The bill includes an annual authorization of about $3 billion for the Space Launch System designed to carry astronauts to Mars by the 2030s. And it authorizes $700 million for the Commercial Crew Program that will ferry Americans to the International Space Station.
Both are top priorities for NASA, though the agency is asking for $821 million for the Commercial Crew Program. The GOP bill also would require that at least one of the aerospace companies NASA is assisting as part of the Commercial Crew program be ready to fly astronauts to the International Space Station by Dec. 31, 2017.
There's no guarantee that whatever bill passes the House will go far in the Senate, where majority Democrats are more supportive of the president's agenda for NASA.
Passage of the House measure would be a setback for the Obama administration, which has championed more research into climate change and supports an asteroid mission as a stepping-stone to Mars.
Wednesday's hearing turned testy at times, with Democrats calling the Republican bill “deeply flawed” and “simply unacceptable” because they said it would cost jobs at NASA centers, including Kennedy Space Center, and sacrifice important scientific research.
Republican Mo Brooks of Alabama countered that Democrats are to blame for letting entitlement programs grow so large that they now elbow out funding for important government functions, including the space program.
NASA would get $17.7 billion under Obama's budget proposal for fiscal 2014. The space agency received a little more than $16.6 billion for the current fiscal year.
On Wednesday, a House Appropriations subcommittee also voted to fund the agency at $16.6 billion in fiscal 2014. Before passing their version, Republicans on the science committee rebuffed a Democratic proposal to preserve much of the money for Earth sciences and set the annual NASA authorization at $18.1 billion.
At one point, Rep. Donna Edwards, D-Md., who sponsored the Democratic proposal, asked Rep. Bill Posey, R-Rockledge, how many jobs would be lost in his district at Kennedy Space Center if the GOP bill becomes law. Posey responded that Obama “has pretty much already devastated the employment” at KSC when in 2010 he canceled the Constellation program that would have resumed moon missions.
Posey said Democrats ignore the budget cuts by expecting NASA to continue the same level of research and science it’s been asked to do.
“I think the top priority should be manned space flight … NASA should focus on space,” he said, adding that other federal agencies handle research and science on the planet. “We have to have priorities.”