WASHINGTON, D.C. (CSF PR) — Today the Senate Appropriations Committee approved the FY 2016 Commerce, Justice and Science (CJS) Appropriations Bill. The bill increases NASA’s budget by $279 million above its FY 2015 budget, but underfunds NASA’s Commercial Crew program by more than $300 million. Failing to fully fund the Commercial Crew program in FY 2016 would result in the United States human spaceflight gap being extended, again, and ensuring further payments to the Russians for launches of American astronauts to the ISS beyond 2017. Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Vice-Chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, offered an amendment that would have restored the $300 million to the Commercial Crew program, avoiding a further gap and reliance on the Russians. The Committee failed to adopt the amendment.
Full funding for the Commercial Crew program is necessary to support NASA’s CCtCap Contract, as was strongly recommended by NASA’s independent Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel (ASAP) for the safety, reliability and the best schedule performance. The ASAP, in its most recent annual report, expressed concern over the impact of insufficient funding for the Commercial Crew program on contractual obligations: “Under these Firm Fixed Price contracts, the contractor receives pre-determined payments for completion of pre-defined work. If the [Commercial Crew] Program does not receive sufficient funding, the contractor cannot be directed to ‘slow down’ without an equitable adjustment (increase) in fixed price. Alternatively, reducing the scope of certification work to accommodate funding shortfalls could affect safety.”
Last month during the ASAP’s 2015 Second Quarterly Meeting, NASA’s independent safety advisory panel reiterated its funding concerns: “Now that the companies are under fixed-price contracts, it is important for all to recognize that if NASA does not receive the appropriations that it is counting on, it will have a very significant impact on schedule, and we will end up relying on the Russians beyond the 2017 target.”
“We understand that as long as the 2011 budget caps remain in place, Congress will be forced to make tough tradeoffs regarding funding priorities,” said CSF President Eric Stallmer. “With that said, fully funding NASA’s Commercial Crew program should be viewed as a priority, as strongly recommended on numerous occasions by NASA’s independent Aerospace Safety and Advisory Panel. We applaud Senator Mikulski’s effort to amend the bill, which would have responsibly funded the Commercial Crew program at this critical stage in development and safety certification. While Senator Mikulski’s effort came up short today, we look forward to continuing to work with the Committee to find ways to fully fund the Commercial Crew program and avoid unnecessarily extending our reliance on the Russians.”