WASHINGTON — The White House unveiled a 2012 budget blueprint Feb. 14 that freezes funding for NASA and other federal agencies at 2010 levels while continuing to invest in top priorities, including technology research and development, nurturing commercial space initiatives and building a heavy-lift rocket and multi-purpose crew vehicle for manned space missions beyond low Earth orbit.

The $18.7 billion top-line spending level President Barack Obama is seeking for NASA next year is roughly $300 million less than the 2011 budget plan he sent lawmakers last February and $750 million below the $19.45 billion recommended for the agency in the NASA Authorization Act of 2010, which Obama signed in October.

Obama’s budget would put NASA more than $700 million behind the $19.45 billion forecasted for 2012 in the budget proposal the president sent Congress last year but never saw enacted.

Despite the flat request for 2012, the president’s NASA budget provides at least some new funding for top priorities directed in the authorization measure, and in some cases exceeds levels set for specific programs. For example, if Obama’s request is approved, NASA would have $850 million to spend on commercial space initiatives in 2012, $350 million more than called for in the authorization act.

The request also calls for spending $1.024 billion on space technology research and exploration technology development, roughly $100 million more than the $923 million called for in the authorization act.

The request would fund $1.8 billion in 2012 to begin development of a new heavy-lift launch vehicle and $1 billion to continue developing NASA’s Orion crew capsule as directed in the NASA Authorization Act of 2010, which Obama signed into law in October. However, the combined $2.8 billion that would fund the development is less than half the roughly $4 billion congressional authorizers directed in the NASA bill.

Obama’s proposal includes $1.78 billion for Earth science programs in 2012, some $160 million less than called for in the authorization act but still about $360 million more than the agency’s current Earth science budget.

NASA’s overall Science budget — which includes Earth science, astrophysics, heliophysics and planetary science —would top $5 billion in 2012, a roughly $500 million increase over the current budget but less than previously forecast.

These and other targeted increases would be funded by reducing NASA’s Space Operations budget by $1.8 billion relative to the 2010 level. Those savings would be realized by retiring the space shuttle later this year.


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