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Monday, February 13, 2012

To rocks and the red planet: the NASA FY 2013 Budget Estimate

Here we are, again.

NASA's 2013 budget looks, well, an awful lot like the 2012 budget. But at least now we have some more specifics, and something a bit sexier than the ISS as a centerpiece.

Looking at what is on the docket, to quote John Mellencamp, "it ain't love, but it ain't bad".

In no particular order--

Space X and other commercial operators will begin regular crew and cargo flights to the ISS and other low earth orbit destinations.

The SLS/Orion project will continue, with uncrewed missions beginning in 2017 and crewed missions beginning in 2021. The only destinations mentioned (repeatedly) were near-earth asteroids and Mars. No mention of the moon or the earth-moon L1 or L2 Langrangian orbits. Back in November there had been discussion of building a semipermanent space station at the Earth-Moon L2 orbit, that seems to have been tabled. Lunar landing is apparently completely out of the question, or at least completely out of the budget, so it looks like NASA is opting to bypass the moon entirely. For the asteroid and Mars missions, much emphasis was placed on the integrated roles of humans and robots. The missions of Mars Science Laboratory and the rover Curiosity appear to be especially focused on research and preparation for crewed missions to Mars.

Research satellites for astronomy, atmospherics, space-weather and asteroid tracking continue to be a priority, as does research in advanced aviation technology.

The James Webb Space Telescope continues to be funded, now looking to launch in late 2018. I consider the JWST to be the single most important project NASA has ever been involved in, but Congress does not share my enthusiasm; I'm very glad it made the cut, again.

Given the current austerity of the federal budget a a whole, this is probably the best we could hope for at this point. Here is the 2013 budget estimate in its entirety:

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