NASA's budget for the 2015 fiscal year wouldn't budge much from last year under the White House's proposal for nearly $17.5 billion, as officials reaffirmed the commitment to extending the life of the International Space Station, funding potential missions to Mars and Jupiter's moon Europa and sending a manned mission to nab an asteroid and bring it back to Earth orbit.
The proposed $17.46-billion budget for 2015 is roughly $200 million less than the 2014 fiscal year request, and the planetary science division would receive about $1.28 billion -- not quite up to last year's $1.35 billion.
Still, plans for a mission to capture an asteroid would get $133 million. And the space station's extension to 2024 was framed as part of the Obama administration's long-term vision for humans to visit an asteroid by 2025 and reach Mars by the 2030s.
"We are very excited that this budget does fund all of our priorities," NASA Chief Financial Officer Elizabeth Robinson said.
The proposed budget would fund the 2020 Mars mission that would cache a sample of Mars rock that a later spacecraft could bring back to Earth; and it would provide almost $15 million to develop a plan for a potential mission to Europa, an icy moon that apparently squirts water and could be one of the "worlds" in our own solar system with the potential to host a life-friendly environment beneath its frigid shell.
But the budget would also involve some cuts, including putting NASA's Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) on ice unless its partner on the project, the German Aerospace Center, shoulders more of the cost. Robinson cited the need to balance funding older missions and investing in new efforts, such as a potential mission to Europa or the Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST), a mission that could search for dark energy.
"Budgets are about making choices," NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said during a news briefing.
But Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Burbank), whose district includes Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Cañada Flintridge, which operates the Mars rovers, said the funding for planetary science was nowhere near the 2012 level of $1.5 billion.
"It's an improvement on what the administration submitted a year ago, but it's still insufficient to maintain our position of leadership in planetary science," Schiff said in an interview.
Schiff, who is a member of the House Appropriations Committee, said he and others would be working to augment President Obama's budget for planetary science, a practice that has been repeated in recent years.
"I wish we didn't have to keep doing this," he said.