For the first time in its often turbulent history, NASA’s Commercial Crew Program is set to receive the full level of funding. $1.243 billion, requested by the Obama Administration. The news comes as one small part of an Omnibus Spending Bill passed by House and Senate appropriators early this morning. While the agreement, as well as another temporary spending measure, must still be approved by both bodies, it is not expected to encounter serious opposition.
The sudden change in fortunes for Commercial Crew comes as part of an overall FY 2016 budget for NASA which will see its funding rise nearly to $19.285 billion, a considerable increase over the Administrations’s original request of $18.5 billion.
Significantly, the Omnibus also moves Commercial Crew from the Exploration Systems budget account, where it was in constant conflict with SLS for the same dollars, into the Space Station operational account. One immediate consequence of the change was apparent in language accompanying the bill. Congress will now grant NASA the authority to deduct additional funds for Commercial Crew development from amounts that have been set aside to pay for rides aboard the Russian Soyuz beyond 2017. At the time the Administration’s FY 2016 budget request, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden warned Congress that if his agency did not receive the $1.244 billion being sought this year for the program which will see both SpaceX and Boeing launching astronauts to the International Space Station, he would have no choice but to extend American reliance on Russia as a contingency measure. In August, Bolden signed a contract extension for further Soyuz rides into 2018. With issue finally settled, at least until the FY 2017 budget request, NASA and its two contractors now face the challenge of making good on what may soon seem to be an all too brief time-frame.
In what should come as no surprise, at the same time Commercial Crew finally received what it asked, the Space Launch System was showered with even more more money than requested, with its budget increased from the $1.36 billion originally requested all the way to $2 billion. A full break down is available at SpaceNews.com.