Space exploration requires a nation’s sustained commitment. Administrations, legislators, government employees, and contractors come and go – it is our nation’s citizens that carry the torch of space exploration from decade to decade. That’s why it is vital for new Administrations and new Congresses to listen to the needs of the nation.
Time and time again, space exploration has brought our nation together. During the 1960s, the Apollo program united us under a common goal. More recently, NASA’s return to launching American astronauts on American rockets from American soil once again unified our country with a shared purpose. We also put another rover on Mars and even flew a helicopter for the first time on another world.
This sustained commitment to space exploration pushes the bounds of the possible. From meeting with constituents back home, I can tell you that space exploration continues to receive broad support and inspires the nation.
But that support should not be taken for granted. Realigning NASA’s goals away from space exploration – or using NASA as a tool for identity politics – risks undermining the near-universal support our space program receives. Unfortunately, we may be at an inflection point.
At first glance, the Administration’s budget seems to stay the course and chart a bright path for NASA’s future. It proposes to increase the overall NASA budget above the fiscal year 2021 (FY21) appropriated level by $1.6 billion for FY22. However, once you dig into the details, some concerning themes emerge.
The Administration’s request for FY22 is $445 million lower than the Trump Administration’s FY21 request, $2.39 billion below what the previous Administration requested for FY22, and more than $7.75 billion below the FY22-25 budget proposed just last year. More specifically, the request cuts $14.5 billion over the next four years from the Exploration Research and Development account that would fund the Human Landing System and necessary Lunar surface capabilities, and $10 billion from the HLS budget for FY22-25. The Administration also recently announced a two-year delay for any new Planetary Science New Frontiers robotic missions.
All of these cuts to NASA’s out-year budget for exploration come at a critical juncture. China recently conducted a robotic lunar sample return, placed a rover on Mars (only the second nation after the US to do so successfully), and just last week launched Taikonauts to their new space station.
The Chinese Communist Party prioritizes space exploration for a variety of reasons. National prestige, regime legitimacy, technological sophistication, and international “soft power” influence.
China’s accomplishment and the Biden Administration’s cuts to exploration present a stark contrast today.
I look forward to hearing from the Administrator today and working with my colleague on this Committee, the Appropriators, the Senate, the Administration to ensure that America remains a leader in space exploration for generations to come. Administrator Nelson, we’ve worked well together in the past on previous NASA Authorizations and the Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act – I look forward to continuing that successful coordination in the future as we chart a bright future for our nation’s space exploration enterprise.