Tight budgets ahead
The American Institute of Physics (AIP) produces reports on legislation affecting science and technology. They've now released a report on NASA legislation so far in the quest for an FY13 budget.
Overall, the Administration asked for a cut in the NASA topline to $17.1 billion (B). The House has recommended $17.6. The Senate recommended $19.4, although the apparent increase is caused by the transfer of weather satellite programs from NOAA to NASA. Looking across the budgets so far, Space Technology and Science do OK, while Education, Exploration, and Space Operations, and Aeronautics will likely be funded at or below the President's request in the upcoming conference committee.
One item of special interest is that the Senate bill "allows for the transfer of up to $14,500,000 to the Department of Energy to re-establish facilities capable of producing fuel needed to enable future missions" - in other words, plutonium oxide (not the form used in weapons) for radioisotope thermal generators (RTGs). Despite the controversy that attends anything labeled "nuclear," anything out past Mars inescapably requires an RTG: solar panels are just inadequate that far out, and the nation has almost none of it left.
NASA is being blasted by space scientists and advocates for cutting Mars missions. The Senate tries to mend this by adding $110M for Mars exploration. We'll see how this holds up. I hope it does.