NASA's $17.7 billion budget request for financial year 2014 (FY14) would fully fund crucial spaceflight programmes, says Elizabeth Robinson, NASA's chief financial officer.

The commercial crew programme, intended to fund commercial competition for flights to the International Space Station, is fully funded at $821 million. Also fully funded is the Space Launch System (SLS), meant to send crew on missions beyond Earth orbit.

Both commercial crew and SLS have been the subject of acrimonious budget debates.

Commercial crew currently funds projects by three companies, Boeing, Sierra Nevada and SpaceX, which are meant to provide competing flights ferrying crew to the International Space Station. Critics maintain that development of a single vehicle would suffice, and that the uncertain role of the ISS - currently scheduled to deactivate in 2020, though extension is considered likely - means the capability is unneeded.

"We are trying to develop the capability by 2017, and in NASA there is something called the development curve," says Robinson. "You need to grab hold of the resources and move forward so you can develop it in the most cost-efficient mannerwe are at higher levels in [FY]14, 15 and 16, but by 17, when you see the capability emerging, you'll see the funding level go down."

The SLS is supposed to launch a crewed Orion capsule on interplanetary missions, including a recently-announced flight to an asteroid. The programme is in some circles dubbed the 'Senate Launch System,' alluding to powerful backers in the US Senate that pushed through a law mandating the system's construction, despite fierce resistance. "One of the newest features of our budget is the asteroid initiative," says Robinson, "To have astronauts go and visit an asteroid." The flight, using SLS and Orion, was first mentioned by President Barack Obama in 2010. It is Orion's first official flight destination. Additional initiatives include capturing a small asteroid and bringing it into lunar orbit.

Continuing the agency's emphasis on Mars, the FY14 budget contains funding for a rover to follow the successful Curiosity mission, in addition to MAVEN and InSIGHT. Landing humans on Mars is not expected until the 2030s.

Source: Flight International