Includes One Additional Shuttle Flight
It's a major win for NASA... but
still far short of a decisive victory. On Wednesday the US House of
Representatives approved a $20.2 billion NASA spending bill for
fiscal year 2009 that includes funds for one more shuttle flight
before the fleet's retirement, as well as more money for
development of the Constellation program.
The Associated Press reports the 2.8 percent increase in funds
over FY2008 includes money for one last mission to the
International Space Station, so that NASA can fulfill its
commitment to deliver the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer. NASA pledged
to deliver the 15,000-pound instrument -- to be used to search for
unusual matter in space -- early in the ISS program, but shelved
those plans following the 2003 loss of Columbia.
"We ought to make good on our original commitment to fly this
expensive instrument to the ISS," said Texas congressman Ralph
Hall, the top Republican on the Science Committee, during debate on
the measure last week. Sixteen countries contributed some $1.5
billion to develop the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer for the US
Department of Energy.
House lawmakers approved reinstatement of that mission by an
overwhelming -- and likely veto-proof -- 409-15 vote. The latter is
as the Bush Administration opposes spending a dime more
than originally budgeted for the shuttle program, now
slated for retirement in 2010. The White House penned a $17.6
billion budget for NASA for FY2009.
Less likely to draw the lame-duck administration's ire is a
provision in the bill calling for $1 billion to be spent in 2009 to
speed up development of NASA's next-generation Constellation manned
space program. The money will go towards closing the gap between
the shuttle's 2010 retirement, and first flight of the Orion Crew
Exploration Vehicle (CEV) and Ares I Crew Launch Vehicle (CLV) in
Dozens of lawmakers have protested that five-year gap... which,
unless a reliable private transport system comes online, will force
NASA to rely on Russian space flights to deliver crews and supplies
to the ISS.
"Without additional funding for Orion, America risks abdicating
its position as the world leader in science and technology to
Russia, China and Japan," said Rep. Nick Lampson, whose district
includes the Johnson Space Center in Houston, TX.
The Senate still needs to consider the House bill.