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'CRomnibus' budget a good deal for NASA planetary science, supporters say

As Congress weighs omnibus spending bill, NASA supporters count their blessings

The so-called CRomnibus package is up for a vote in Congress this week – and supporters of NASA are cheering it on. If approved in the House and Senate, the federal spending appropriations for the 2015 fiscal year would give the space agency enough funding to send the Mars 2020 rover to the Red Planet on time and to invest in a flagship mission to Jupiter’s moon Europa.

The omnibus bill would provide NASA with $18.01 billion, which amounts to $549 million above President Obama’s budget request for this year. Within that amount, planetary science would get $1.437 billion, a $157-million boost.

“Each year now for several years we’ve had to fight with the administration for adequate levels of funding for planetary science, which has been the crown jewel of NASA,” said Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Burbank), whose district includes NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Canada Flintridge. “But Congress responded with a resounding ‘Yes’ for planetary science and rejected the cuts and then went well beyond expectations.”

The finding would also allow NASA to keep operating the long-lived Opportunity rover, managed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

The bill also specifically sets aside $118 million for a mission to Jupiter’s moon Europa. This moon, whose icy exterior likely hides a subsurface ocean, is one of the few worlds in our solar system that could host a life-friendly environment.

“We have the science, great minds and technology in place to explore other worlds,” Bill Nye, chief executive of the Planetary Society, said in a statement, adding that the proposed planetary science budget was just shy of the organization’s recommended $1.5 billion. “We have the support of the Congress. We have the potential to search for life at destinations like Mars and Europa. Let’s get out there and see what's up.”

The planetary science funding was essential to safeguarding the experience and expertise of NASA’s current scientists and engineers, Schiff added.

“There are only a handful of people on Earth who know how to successfully land on Mars, or know how to get to Europa and contemplate a landing there, and they’re at JPL,” Schiff said. “We don’t want to break up the dream team of scientists we have at JPL.”

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