Mikulski Statement on NASA’s Budget Proposal

Sen. Barbara Mikulski
Sen. Barbara Mikulski

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.), Vice Chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee and the Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies (CJS) Subcommittee, attended her final CJS Subcommittee hearing. The hearing reviewed the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) fiscal year 2017 budget request. Senator Mikulski has helped oversee NASA’s budget throughout her tenure on the Appropriations Committee, which began in 1987, and has been the lead Democrat overseeing its budget since 1989. She joined the then Commerce, Justice, State, and Judiciary Subcommittee in 1997, and became the top Democrat on the Subcommittee in 2005 when it became Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies, and included the NASA account.

The following are Vice Chairwoman Mikulski’s remarks, as prepared for delivery:

“This is my final hearing with the CJS Subcommittee, and it is on the budget of such an inspirational agency – the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

“From the first day, I was inspired by NASA – especially the research and scientific activity done at Goddard. I am so proud of the men and women who work there and around the country. Technology is great, but behind every piece of technology is a human being who invented it, perfected it and got it going where it needed to go. Behind every new idea at NASA are the people who thought it up and thought of how to make it happen.

“Though I’ve decided to turn a new page, I’m not ready to write the last chapter. I’m still here for 10 more months, fighting alongside Chairman Shelby and standing up for innovation and new discoveries in space as well as the people behind it.

“I want to thank Senator Shelby for that introduction. We entered the Senate together from the House. You have been my partner and my friend. And this is our last CJS hearing together.

“We’ve accomplished so much together. We’ve protected Americans by transforming the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), modernizing the National Weather Service and fighting violence against women; created jobs by investing in trade and manufacturing; and fought waste and technoboondoggles, from $5 meatballs and $16 bagels to reducing the patent backlog and reforming satellite procurement.

“Our colleagues could learn a lot from this Subcommittee, working shoulder to shoulder on a bipartisan basis, pursuing common purposes and getting the job done. When we disagree we do it without being disagreeable.

“We’ve worked together for so long – Senator Shelby and Senator Barb. When it comes to space we’ve had a lot of great help, including astronauts with the ‘right stuff’ like Jake Garn, John Glenn and Bill Nelson, as well as our Appropriations pal and partner, Kay Bailey Hutchison. We’ve had a lot of success, as well as some cliffhangers and nail biters, too. But whether it was repairing the Hubble Telescope, returning the shuttle to flight or building next generation space transportation, we were all in it together.

“Let’s talk about one of those successes – Hubble. I never thought I’d have a personal relationship with a telescope. Nothing defines my relationship with NASA quite like Hubble. There is nothing in the world – in the universe – quite like Hubble. Hubble is the greatest tool for studying the universe since Galileo’s telescope. It is responsible for the Golden Age of Astronomy, seeing further and more clearly than any telescope in the world – or universe. It has its own website – its own email! So many emails come from kids asking, ‘Did you see God today? Is there another universe? What does it look like?’ It inspires our next generation of scientists and engineers.

“You all know the story. Administrator Bolden launched the Hubble, but it couldn’t phone home and the fix would cost $600 million – the most expensive contact lens in history. But I knew what Hubble could mean for science, for our country! And because of Goddard and NASA’s work, the mission to fix Hubble was a success.

“But the ups and downs weren’t over. In 2004, the Bush Administration pulled the plug on the fifth and final service mission. We received thousands of letters from kids asking President Bush to reconsider. This Committee asked for a second opinion, held hearings and then fought for the budget, eventually putting in the funding to save the last servicing.

“I am so proud of what Hubble has done. Hubble constantly rewrites astronomy textbooks, has examined more than 38,000 objects and made more than a million observations! It’s made more than 140,000 trips around our planet and travelled over 3.8 billion miles – almost the distance from our sun to Pluto.

“All that data is free to anybody, anywhere. Any rich nation can build a space telescope, but only a great nation gives its information away for the common heritage, the common betterment of mankind. Hubble is America’s gift to the world.

“Some say Hubble is on its final journey. Neither Hubble nor I are ready to sputter out. It continues to explore the universe as I continue to explore how to help NASA. Now that we’ve revisited some successes of the past and present, let’s talk about the future.

“The Committee is here to examine NASA’s budget request for fiscal year 2017. The request totals $18.3 billion in discretionary spending, which is $1 billion less than the fiscal year 2016 total of $19.3 billion. I am not happy about the total for NASA and am extremely disappointed in the specifics of the budget request, especially its impact on NASA’s balanced space program.

“The budget request fails to keep on-going missions on track or invest in key decadal survey science priorities. The request proposes cutting Orion and the Space Launch System (SLS) by nearly $1 billion, the Dark Energy mission by 80 percent to $14 million – $76 million less than last year’s level of $90 million – and satellite servicing by more than half from $133 million to $65 million, jeopardizing a mission to repair and refuel on-orbit satellites that are aging in place.

“These cuts are unacceptable. I’ll be working with Chairman Shelby to reorder NASA’s priorities. I’m frustrated about the budget because NASA is a source of scientific research, sending us to the stars, as well as the birthplace of amazing achievements like the Hubble Telescope and the creator of fantastic vehicles that let humans explore the universe.

“To the contractors, academics and civil servants working side-by-side to push humanity further, drive scientific exploration and give the thrill of wonder and discover to the American people: you are important to this country, contributing to our vital technology economy. Because of you, NASA isn’t just a world-class institution – it’s a universe-class institution!

“As we consider the fiscal year 2017 request, first, we will want to do no harm. That means no shutdown, no slam down and no sequester. We’ll fight to get NASA back up to the $19.3 billion level we provided in fiscal year 2016.

“Why do we do it? Because a better NASA means a brighter future for American accomplishments and the American people. Look no further than the James Webb Space Telescope. Some wanted to end the program, but scrapping this telescope would be very short-sighted. I fought very hard for James Webb, and when it launches in 2018 it will secure America’s place as a leader in astronomy for the next 50 years!

“We must stand up for NASA, it’s really standing up for the future. Yes it is about the James Webb telescope, and it’s about new ideas, but really it’s about people. We need to stand up for our scientists and our technicians – I’m proud of you! Who ever heard of putting a 12-ton telescope in outer space? I know that money for research, discovery and innovation has to be reliable and undeniable, so that we can discover the next planet or the next star! Who knows? Maybe even extraterrestrial life.

“Just know I will never, ever forget the people of NASA or my friends and partners on this Subcommittee. Helen Keller best expressed what I’m feeling, ‘All that we deeply love we can never lose. All that we have met becomes a part of us.’

“I will never forget the people I’ve met along the way, like Dr. Sally Ride, who showed us that from space Earth has no borders, no walls, no divisions, but is just one big, blue majestic planet; the engineer making a new prosthetic device so our wounded warriors could walk and lift again; and the people who dreamed, who dared, who discovered and who risked their careers to pursue an idea for the good of science – and the good of mankind. All of you have become a part of me no matter what I’m doing.”