After years of penny-pinching from a lack of federal funding, the folks over at NASA woke up to a bit of pleasant news this morning when Congress announced a $1.3 billion increase for its 2016 budget. Found within Congress’ anticipated 2016 federal budget plan, the agreed upon funding is actually a bit more than what was requested, signaling a radical shift in the government’s (ahem, Republican’s) appreciation of the agency’s research. Assuming the budget passes without any major changes, NASA should expect roughly $19.3 billion doled out to its various branches and research sectors.
What’s most impressive about Congress’ statement is the fact NASA’s final 2016 budget amount is more than President Barack Obama originally asked for. Cited in the fiscal year 2016 request, Obama asked for a mere $18.5 billion but, somehow, Congress one-upped him. With sectors like the NASA Planetary Science Division facing a possible permanent cut, the influx in cash flow allows the agency to continue to operate across the board. Moreover, a higher budget also opens up the possibility for NASA to stop leaning on Russia for trips to the International Space Station.
One area of the budget NASA is surely happy to see funded is with its Commercial Crew program. With roughly $1.2 billion on tap, the agency has the ability to move forward with allowing companies like SpaceX to manufacture and operate spacecraft bound for the ISS. Previous versions of the bill showed hundreds of millions of dollars of less funding, however, Congress eventually decided to match what was asked; the first time this has ever happened with the Commercial Crew program. Congress even went so far as to strongly urge NASA to use this funding in a way that promises commercial launches by 2017.
Other notable areas receiving funding include NASA’s Earth Science research program (of which NASA administrator Charles Bolden stumped for this summer in person at Congress), Human Exploration Capabilities, and the Space Launch System, among others. So instead of programs deciding what to cut and what to keep, they’ll instead get to decide on which piece of advanced research to dive into next while keeping everything on the table.
Perhaps the best way to interpret this news is this: it’s a good day to be NASA. While the budget has yet to officially pass the House and Senate — voting is scheduled for Friday — it’s clear that NASA’s recent momentum is becoming impossible for the government to ignore. It’s one thing to shoot for the stars in terms of research and development, but when a generally NASA-opposed Congress begins to finally listen, that’s when you know the hard work has (literally) paid off.