Mikulski: NASA’s 2015 Budget Will Be No Worse than Flat

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COLLEGE PARK, Md. — Although the White House has proposed cutting NASA’s 2015 budget by $185 million, the U.S. space agency will not lose a single dollar next year if the head of the Senate Appropriations Committee gets her way.

“My goal for NASA is to make sure we’re at least at the 2014 level,” Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) told the Maryland Space Business Roundtable during an April 7 luncheon here. “And if we can find more money I will take you above that. We’re not going to go backward.”

The search for extra NASA funding is “a work in progress,” Mikulski told SpaceNews after the speech. She acknowledged that there might be no additional money found for NASA.

The public may get an update on the search May 1 when NASA Administrator Charles <span class=”removed_link” title=”http://dev.spacenews.com/profile/bolden/”>Bolden is scheduled to testify about the agency’s 2015 budget request before the Senate Appropriations commerce, justice, science committee, which Mikulski also chairs.

House appropriators will get first crack at Bolden. The House Appropriations commerce, justice, science subcommittee is holding a hearing April 8 to review NASA’s 2015 budget proposal.

The White House is seeking $17.5 billion for NASA in 2015, roughly $185 million less than what the agency is getting this year under an omnibus spending bill signed in January. About 40 percent of the proposed reduction would come from canceling the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA), a telescope-equipped 747SP jetliner the White House wants NASA to mothball after this year.

Mikulski said the White House 2015 request was “well intentioned, but I regard it as advisory.” Asked whether she would follow the administration’s advice to cancel SOFIA, Mikulski was noncommittal.

“We’re doing our diligence,” Mikulski told SpaceNews.

Mikulski, a fierce advocate for the Goddard Space Flight Center, also made what is for her a routine pitch about protecting the Greenbelt, Md.-based center’s signature programs, notably the James Webb Space Telescope. The $8 billion observatory, which is slated to launch in 2018 aboard Europe’s Ariane 5 rocket, is in its peak development year. NASA is spending $658.2 million on the telescope in 2014 and has requested $645.4 million for 2015. These are the spending levels the White House and Congress agreed to in 2012, when NASA completed a new plan for the overbudget project.

Meanwhile, Mikulski said she was pleased with the $5.5 billion budget the White House requested for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, nearly half of which would go toward the agency’s weather satellite programs.

“We are going to make sure we get behind the president’s NOAA budget,” Mikulski said. “He was more generous with NOAA than NASA, but I believe in balance, as you know.”

The White House’s 2015 request for NOAA is about $175 million above the 2014 appropriation.