MIL-OSI USA: Congressman Mfume, Maryland Delegation, Virginia lawmakers Urge Appropriations Committee Leaders to Prioritize NASA Goddard and Wallops Flight Facility Project Funding, Keeping Jobs Intact and Mission in Focus

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Source: United States House of Representatives – Congressman Kweisi Mfume (MD-07)

Senators and Representatives from Maryland and Virginia Implore Colleagues to Fund NASA Goddard Space Flight Center Program Priorities Amidst Impending Budget Cuts

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Democratic members of the Maryland Congressional Delegation – Congressman Kweisi Mfume, Senators Chris Van Hollen and Ben Cardin, Congressmen Steny H. Hoyer, Dutch Ruppersberger, John Sarbanes, Jamie Raskin, David J. Trone, and Glenn Ivey – joined by Virginia Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine and Representative Bobby Scott urge Senate and House Appropriations leadership to prioritize funding of NASA Goddard, which also manages Wallops Flight Facility in Accomack County, Virginia. In a letter to Senate Appropriations Chair Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Ranking Member Susan Collins (R-Maine), and House Appropriations Chair Kay Granger (R-Texas) and Ranking Member Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), the lawmakers ask for consideration in any appropriations package for the remainder of fiscal year 2024. The legislators are key decisionmakers in the government funding process. 

“We write to urgently bring to your attention the critical implications of the possible fiscal year 2024 (FY24) budget cuts to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), particularly concerning their impact on the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. While we understand the constraints imposed by the debt limit agreement reached in June, which limits federal discretionary spending in FY24 and fiscal year 2025 (FY25), we seek a strong commitment to balance NASA’s priorities in science and exploration,” the lawmakers began.

“NASA Goddard faces constraints because of impending budget cuts and the associated Agency plans to allocate funding. While much attention has been devoted to efforts to return humans to the Moon and, ultimately, a crewed mission to Mars, we are concerned that missions across the NASA science divisions have received uneven support and that the Science Mission Directorate will disproportionately bear the brunt of the budget cuts,” they continued. “These cuts will inhibit NASA Goddard’s ability to continue conducting critical research and testing, impacting many NASA facilities nationwide. As a result, NASA Goddard and its partner NASA facilities risk losing jobs, innovation, scientific discovery, and technological advancement in Maryland, our nation, and the world.

After stressing the need to fund several NASA Goddard-led projects that will support our national security and strengthen our understanding of our universe, the lawmakers concluded: “The success of NASA is critical to ensure that the United States remains a global leader in innovation and space exploration. We thank you for your leadership and attention to this matter. We look forward to your continued support in maintaining critical expertise at NASA Goddard, its partner NASA facilities, and the broader goals of space exploration and scientific advancement.”

The full congressional letter follows and can be found attached or click here.

Dear Chairwoman Murray, Ranking Member Collins, Chairwoman Granger, and Ranking Member DeLauro:

We write to urgently bring to your attention the critical implications of the possible fiscal year 2024 (FY24) budget cuts to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), particularly concerning their impact on the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. While we understand the constraints imposed by the debt limit agreement reached in June, which limits federal discretionary spending in FY24 and fiscal year 2025 (FY25), we seek a strong commitment to balance NASA’s priority in science and exploration.

NASA Goddard has played an unparalleled role in our nation’s civil space program since its founding as NASA’s first space flight complex in 1959. It is the nation’s largest organization of scientists, engineers, and technologists who build spacecraft, instruments, and new technology to study Earth, the Sun, our solar system, and the universe. NASA Goddard has led the development of flagship missions, such as the James Webb Space Telescope, which is making groundbreaking observations about the universe, and is also currently engaged in an array of notable missions, including the Geospace Dynamics Constellation (GDC); the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope; Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud Ocean Ecosystem (PACE), and many other critical programs. NASA Goddard manages Wallops Flight Facility (WFF), the Agency’s only owned launch range with suborbital platforms for science and technology research and an economic engine for the Eastern Shore. NASA Goddard is also one of the largest employers in Prince George’s County, with a staff of approximately 10,000. The expertise housed at NASA Goddard is an invaluable national asset, driving breakthroughs in space and Earth sciences; if jobs are lost, the U.S. risks stalling critical advancements, compromising our leadership in Earth systems science, and hindering our understanding of our planet’s complex systems.

Impact of Budget Cuts

NASA Goddard faces constraints because of impending budget cuts and the associated Agency plans to allocate funding. While much attention has been devoted to efforts to return humans to the Moon and, ultimately, a crewed mission to Mars, we are concerned that missions across the NASA science divisions have received uneven support and that the Science Mission Directorate will disproportionately bear the brunt of the budget cuts. These cuts will inhibit NASA Goddard’s ability to continue conducting critical research and testing, impacting many NASA facilities nationwide. As a result, NASA Goddard and its partner NASA facilities risk losing jobs, innovation, scientific discovery, and technological advancement in Maryland, our nation, and the world.

As negotiations begin on the final Fiscal Year 2024 Appropriations bill, we write with our priorities regarding the following programs:

  • On-orbit Servicing, Assembly, and Manufacturing 1 (OSAM-1): OSAM-1 is a space technology mission that will demonstrate capabilities to robotically rehabilitate government-owned satellites and other satellites that were not originally built or intended to be serviced in space. OSAM-1 will grant satellite operators new ways to manage their fleets more efficiently and will help mitigate space debris. Due to development challenges and concerns that the technology demonstration will be surpassed by industry and similar efforts by the Department of Defense, OSAM-1 will be undergoing a Continuation Review in early 2024, which could result in cancellation. We ask that language be included to explore opportunities with United States Space Force for cost-sharing, in exchange for use of the platform once the OSAM-1 primary mission is complete. We also request that the final FY 2024 appropriations report direct NASA to transfer $100 million of the OSAM-1 funds to the Habitable Worlds Observatory in the event of the mission’s cancellation.

  • Habitable Worlds Observatory (HWO): HWO is the top priority of the 2020 Decadal Survey on Astronomy and Astrophysics. Building on the Hubble Space Telescope’s three decade track record of prolific science discovery and the breakthrough technological achievements of the James Webb Space Telescope, HWO will search for exoplanets outside of our solar system that could support life and peer deeper into our cosmic history as NASA’s next Astrophysics flagship mission. Robust investment in the HWO is critical to establishing our nation’s leadership ahead of China and building a strong foundation for future astrophysics missions. Furthermore, Congressional support to jumpstart work on HWO will maintain key skillsets critical for American leadership in space science and ensure technical expertise from OSAM-1 is effectively and efficiently transitioned to this flagship mission.

  • Mars Sample Return: We strongly oppose funding for the Mars Sample Return (MSR) at level any greater than the Senate Commerce, Justice, and Science bill. The House bill is at odds with NASA’s course of action following the Independent Review Board’s Final Report, which recommended rescoping the MSR mission due to cost, schedule, and management concerns. NASA has issued orders to pause MSR development as the program revises its architecture. NASA Goddard has received direction to execute an orderly shutdown of the Capture, Containment, and Return System (CCRS), an instrument that is part of MSR, following completion of its Preliminary Design Review in December 2023. Pushing forward with the mission as directed by the House and against the recommendations of the Independent Review Board will undermine NASA’s ability to successfully restructure the program to ensure it produces the greatest scientific value in the future and will detrimentally impact the progress of other missions in the Planetary Science Division and across the Science Mission Directorate. The orderly shutdown of the CCRS further bolsters how critical support for Habitable Worlds will be to Goddard.

We oppose the Senate report language directing $235 million to Exploration for Artemis Campaign Development should NASA ultimately decide to cancel the Mars Sample Return mission, and we strongly urge all funds to remain within the Science Mission Directorate should such a decision occur.

  • Dragonfly: NASA Goddard is a key partner in the New Frontiers Dragonfly mission, a Planetary Science mission led by the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in collaboration with NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. Dragonfly will explore the most Earth-like world in our Solar System, Saturn’s moon, to advance our understanding of the building blocks of life in the universe and provide clues on how life may have arisen on our own planet. The Dragonfly team has served as a responsible steward of the mission, and in September 2022, the NASA Office of the Inspector General reported that any cost and schedule overruns have been “primarily due to NASA replanning the project schedule.”1 Dragonfly recently passed all the success criteria of its Preliminary Design Review and was approved to proceed with a revised targeted launch readiness date of 2028. FY 2024 and FY 2025 are critical funding years for the mission’s timely development. We strongly support including $390 million for Dragonfly to meet the targeted 2028 launch date.

  • Geospace Dynamics Constellation (GDC): GDC, recommended by the 2013 Heliophysics Decadal Survey, is a flagship mission that will study the coupling between the magnetosphere and the ionosphere-thermosphere system of Earth’s upper atmosphere, providing the first direct global measurements of our planet’s dynamic and complex interface with the space environment. GDC will address crucial scientific questions pertaining to the dynamic processes active in Earth’s upper atmosphere, their local, regional, and global structure, and their role in driving and modifying magnetospheric activity. This will deepen our understanding of space weather and its impact on our communication, national security, and critical technologies.

We were disappointed by the decision to delay the GDC and reallocate funding initially intended for GDC to the MSR. We are concerned that this points to a broader effort to deprioritize the Heliophysics division, a relatively small part of the overall science budget, and is evidence that oversight is needed to ensure balance across NASA’s priorities. We support the Senate Commerce, Justice, and Science Report language and funding level for GDC as well as the overall topline funding level as provided in the Senate bill for the Heliophysics division.

  • Discovery Program: Through a competitive process in 2021, NASA selected the Deep Atmosphere Venus Investigation of Nobel Gas, Chemistry, and Imaging (DAVINCI). The DAVINCI mission will study the origin, evolution, and present state of Venus in unprecedented detail from near the top of the clouds to the planet’s surface. DAVINCI is the first return to the Venus atmosphere and near-surface by a NASA mission since 1978, and its descent over a yet-unexplored mountainous region of Venus has considerable inspirational value for the public. Thoroughly understanding Venus’s atmosphere is critically important to interpreting results of JWST observations of exoplanets, and preparing for the next revolutionary space telescope, the Habitable Worlds Observatory. Understanding Venus helps us understand our own planet and what the future may hold. We request the Committees’ support to include $55.8M, as requested in the President’s Budget, for NASA to begin planning for the DAVINCI to avoid an indefinite delay.

  • Earth Science Programs: NASA Goddard is home to the world’s most extensive collection of Earth scientists. We support the President’s FY24 budget request, which includes support for the Earth System Observatory and its Atmosphere Observing System (AOS)- Sky and AOS-Storm missions. The AOS missions optimize how we examine links among tiny particles known as “aerosols,” clouds, atmospheric convection, and precipitation. AOS will deliver critical data for improved weather, air quality, and climate forecasts. The mission makes groundbreaking global measurements from space that reveal how ice and water move vertically within the clouds and how the movement is conjoined with natural and human-made aerosols. These missions will improve our knowledge of severe weather events, air quality, and our ever-changing climate with applications to human health, agriculture, and ecosystems to protect our future.

Conclusion

The success of NASA is critical to ensure that the United States remains a global leader in innovation and space exploration. We thank you for your leadership and attention to this matter. We look forward to your continued support in maintaining critical expertise at NASA Goddard, its partner NASA facilities, and the broader goals of space exploration and scientific advancement.

Sincerely,

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