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House Science, Space, and Technology Committee Hearing: “An Overview of the Budget Proposal for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration for Fiscal Year 2025” 

U.S. House Science, Space, and Technology Committee 

“An Overview of the Budget Proposal for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration for Fiscal Year 2025” 

Tuesday, April 30, 2024 

Watch the Hearing   

Introduction

The U.S. House Science, Space, and Technology Committee (HSST) held a hearing entitled “An Overview of the Budget Proposal for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration for Fiscal Year 2025” on Tuesday, April 30, 2024. The purpose of the hearing was to review the Administration’s Fiscal Year 2025 (FY25) budget request for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). During the hearing, lawmakers and Administrator Nelson discussed the challenges of budget constraints and their implications for agency missions and priorities. Topics of discussion included the Artemis program, the Mars Sample Return (MRS) program, the transition to commercial space stations, as well as STEM education and workforce development initiatives. More information. 

Key Highlights

  • Lawmakers and Administrator Nelson raised concerns about budget constraints impacting NASA’s mission effectiveness, recognizing that tough decisions must be made to navigate the budgetary challenges ahead. Administrator Nelson emphasized the need for increased support from Congress starting in FY26, stating that he hoped that Congress would “be a little more generous” once NASA moves beyond the constraints of 2024 and 2025.
  • Administrator Nelson emphasized NASA’s commitment to safety, particularly regarding crewed missions. He made it clear that NASA will not compromise on safety, even if it means delaying missions until they are ready. 
  • Administrator Nelson highlighted the need to secure emergency funding and foster strategic collaborations to uphold America’s leadership role, particularly in light of the actions of the People’s Republic of China and Russia in the realm of space exploration. 

Witnesses 

  • The Honorable Bill Nelson, Administrator, NASA  

Opening Statements

Chairman Frank Lucas (R-OK)  

  • In his opening statement, Chairman Lucas emphasizes the urgent need for a comprehensive NASA authorization bill, emphasizing the importance of addressing three topics: (1) Artemis, (2) the future of low-Earth orbit (LEO) post-International Space Station (ISS), and (3) NASA’s science mission portfolio, all of which were subjects of hearings held by the Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics earlier this year. Secondly, Chairman Lucas noted the challenge of aligning the bill with the FY24 and FY25 spending caps while ensuring sufficient support for the agency, cautioning against “asking [NASA] to do too much with too little.” Lastly, he underscored growing international competition, noting China’s commitment to land two astronauts on the lunar surface by 2030 and their mission to retrieve samples from the far side of the Moon, asserting, “We cannot let China become the frontrunner in space exploration.” Read the Full Statement.  

Ranking Member Zoe Lofgren (D-CA)  

  • In her opening statement, Ranking Member Lofgren confronted the challenging reality of the current budget proposal, acknowledging the need to make tough decisions. However, she emphasizes the committee’s need to understand the agency’s rationale behind specific decisions. She voiced concerns over potential consequences stemming from workforce reductions, especially in her home state of California, due to prolonged mission timelines. She advocates for a comprehensive assessment of the FY25 proposal’s implications on both the immediate and future health of NASA. Read the Full Statement.  

Witness Testimony

The Honorable Bill Nelson, Administrator, NASA  

  • In his testimony, Administrator Nelson remarked on the administration’s commitment to maintaining America’s leadership in space exploration, highlighting key budget priorities such as investments in deep space exploration through Artemis, advancements in space technologies, and leadership in LEO, particularly with respect to the ISS, scientific research, and STEM education. He emphasized the significance of the upcoming launch of the Boeing Starliner, which marks the first time America has possessed three human-rated spacecraft. Administrator Nelson reiterated that investing in NASA leads to advancements in America’s capabilities and leadership while also generating competitive jobs across all 50 states. Read the Full Statement.  

Question & Answer

Artemis Program  

  • In response to a question by Chairman Lucas (R-OK) about recent reporting that NASA is considering an alternative mission profile for Artemis III, Administrator Nelson referred to the reporting as “speculation” and reiterated that the plan for the Artemis III mission is to have land two astronauts on the lunar surface.  
  • Rep. Maxwell Frost (D-FL) highlighted his bipartisan collaboration with Rep. Bill Posey (R-FL) on a joint letter to the House Appropriation Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies (HAC-CJS), calling for additional funding for the Artemis program to address delays and technical challenges.  

MRS Program  

  • In response to a question by Chairman Lucas (R-OK) about the total project cost of the MRS program, Administrator Nelson referenced the estimate provided by the NASA Internal Review Board, indicating a cost of approximately $11 billion. Administrator Nelson also stated that the agency is seeking input from all the NASA Centers and commercial industry via a Request for Information (RFI) to gather ideas for reducing costs and accelerating the program timeline.  
  • In response to a question by Ranking Member Lofgren (D-CA), Administrator Nelson clarified that changes to the MSR program do not mean the agency is ‘starting the program over’ but exploring alternative options, including proven legacy techniques and infrastructure. He further states that the cost should not exceed the “$6 billion range,” and RFIs will be evaluated in the Fall of 2024. 

International Actors  

  • In response to a question by Chairman Lucas (R-OK), Administrator Nelson stated that emergency supplemental funding requested outside of the FY25 budget request would be allocated to the recovery of a ground station in Guam and the U.S. Deorbit Vehicle (USDV). He explained that funding for the USDV is included in emergency funding due to uncertainties about commitments from Russia for the next 6 years, stating that ‘we don’t know what Vladimir Putin will do.’ 
  • In response to a question by Rep. Posey (R-FL), Administrator Nelson highlighted that when NASA engages in activities such as flying foreign astronauts, conducting foreign experiments, or collaborating with foreign institutions, it serves as a foreign policy tool. He contrasted this with the approach of the PRC, noting that while they employ similar tools, their effectiveness is limited due to the secretive nature of their program. 

LEO and the ISS 

  • In response to a question by Rep. Kevin Mullin (D-CA), Administrator Nelson reemphasized that NASA’s objective is to maintain a continuous presence in LEO without a gap between the International Space Station (ISS) and Commercial LEO Destinations (CLDs). This commitment is driven by the need for Earth applications and to facilitate training for upcoming missions to the Moon and Mars. 
  • In response to a question by Rep. Randy Weber (R-TX) about concerns for the future of the workforce supporting the ISS, Administrator Nelson emphasized the importance of appropriations in determining NASA’s workforce retention plans. He highlighted the impact of budget cuts on NASA’s ability to maintain contracts at its centers and requested that Congress reconsider funding levels in the FY26 budget cycles. He assured that NASA’s workforce situation is more manageable than past instances, such as the Space Shuttle shutdown, but emphasized the role of Congress in shaping future outcomes.

Chandra X-Ray and the Hubble Space Telescopes 

  • In response to a question by Rep. Jennifer McClellan (D-VA) about the future of the X-ray telescope under the current budget proposal, Administrator Nelson acknowledged the budget constraints and emphasized the need for compromises due to reduced funding in the science budget for FY24 and FY25. He stated that new missions are coming, and NASA can’t maintain every mission at previous funding levels. Therefore, NASA is conducting a senior review to explore alternative operational scenarios for Chandra X-Ray and the Hubble Space Telescope to ensure cost-effectiveness.  

Aging Infrastructure

  • In response to a question by Rep. Posey (R-FL) about deferred maintenance on aging infrastructure at NASA facilities, Administrator Nelson highlighted the challenge of building infrastructure without adequate funding and noted the critical issue of aging infrastructure across all NASA centers nationwide. He requested increased appropriations in the FY26 appropriation to address NASA’s facility needs.

Academic Collaboration 

  • In response to a question by Rep. Paul Tonko (D-NY), Administrator Nelson underscored NASA’s commitment to supporting universities and colleges through grant allocation but stressed that this support is contingent on the budget provided to NASA. He reemphasized that budget constraints in FY24 and FY25 have led to significant cuts, expressing that NASA can prioritize these crucial areas once these budget constraints are alleviated.

An archive of previous hearing coverage is available here.

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