NASA’s Budget Plan

NASA’s Budget Plan

Jon Winchell , Political Editor

     NASA Inspector General Paul Martin wrote an interesting letter to the US senators about his concerns for the space agency’s budget. Due to this, the independent NASA official asked Congress not to meddle in decisions that NASA employees have been studying and and delegating.

     Congress, in appropriations legislation, mandated that the space agency launched the Europa Clipper satellite, their multibillion dollar mission to explore Jupiter’s Moon Europa. The very large, powerful, and very costly heavy-lift rocket that has earned the title “Senate Launch System”, or SLS,  because its design and construction was mandated by senators nearly a decade ago. However, the rocket remains under development and probably will not fly for the first time until mid-late 2021 at the earliest.

    However, NASA has said that if it is to have any chance of landing humans on the Moon by 2024, the goal set by US Vice President Mike Pence, it must have the first three SLS rocket launches for the Artemis Moon program.

    Martin wrote, “NASA’s renewed focus on returning humans to the Moon on an accelerated timetable means that an SLS will not be available to launch the Clipper mission to Europa before 2025 at the earliest. We urge Congress to consider removing the requirement that NASA launch the Europa Clipper on an SLS and allow the Agency to decide whether to use an SLS or a commercial vehicle based on cost, schedule, vehicle availability, and impact on science requirements.”

    According to Martin, a decision must be made soon. NASA needs to begin the procurement process in the next few months if it is to ensure delivery of a commercial launch vehicle for a potential Clipper launch in 2023. Some answers will come from the Senate within a few months, as the Appropriations Committee produces its fiscal year 2020 budget.