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Thu, Jun 19, 2008

House Approves $20.2 Billion NASA Budget

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 important, 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 2015.

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.



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