The U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on Appropriations recently approved the fiscal year 2019 Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies appropriations bill led by Subcommittee Chairman Rep. John Culberson (R-TX). This spending bill recommends healthy funding levels for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the National Science Foundation (NSF); these are important both for AURA’s ground-based and space-based telescope operations, and for the U.S. astronomy community as a whole.
Ahead of the bill’s next procedural step of moving to the floor of the House of Representative for full consideration, AURA’s President Matt Mountain made the following statement:
On behalf of AURA, its university and institutional partners, and the U.S. astronomical community in particular, I want to thank Chairman Culberson and his colleagues on the House Appropriations Committee for their strong support for science initiatives funded by the nation’s key civilian science agencies, especially NASA and NSF. The combined increased funding for NASA and NSF is more than $1.2 billion above the current fiscal year 2018 levels, a strong testament to the Chairman’s passion for cutting-edge science despite a challenging fiscal environment and competing national priorities in this bill.
These amounts are significant for AURA’s space-based missions because they ensure the development of James Webb Space Telescope stays on track. Additionally, the Committee’s direction to NASA — that the priorities outlined in the National Academies’ decadal surveys match the priorities of the agency’s science missions — underscores the importance of the continuation of the WFIRST program.
The increased funding within NSF’s Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction demonstrates the confidence House Appropriators have in the progress of our construction projects for solar and optical-infrared astronomy. The additional 5% increase for NSF’s Research and Related Activates account would translate into both stable support for our current facility operations and increased funding for astronomy grants that support the scientists using our telescopes.
The Committee’s forward-thinking nod towards the next generation of U.S. land-based telescopes was especially welcomed in the accompanying report, which stated that NSF should continue to “robustly support both ongoing operations of existing astronomy and physics facilities and articulate a plan to ensure public access in future large optical observatories.”
We are very grateful to Chairman Culberson and look forward to working with him and the rest of the committee members as the fiscal year 2019 process continues to unfold.