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House Passes $20.21 Billion NASA Authorization Bill For Fiscal 2009

By | June 23, 2008

      The House, on a lopsided and veto-proof 409 to 15 vote, passed a $20.21 billion authorization bill to support NASA in the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2009, including an extra $1 billion to reduce the yawning half-decade gap when NASA won’t have any manned space flight program of its own.

      Rather, the United States, so far the only nation to put men on the moon, won’t even be able to get one astronaut off the ground without buying him or her a ticket on Southwest. That means NASA will have to pay billions for the Russians to taxi American astronauts to and from the International Space Station on Soyuz spaceships, or pay private commercial spaceflight companies to provide transport service that doesn’t now exist.

      The half-decade gap will occur when the space shuttle fleet in October 2010 is mandated to retire to save money that will help finance development of the next-generation U.S. spaceship system, Orion-Ares. Orion won’t see its first manned flight until March 2015, unless that extra $1 billion is provided to speed the program. Manned liftoff might occur in 2014 with that extra money.

      This NASA authorization, or enabling, bill now moves to the Senate. Actual funding for NASA is to be provided by companion appropriations legislation, such as a bill moving from the Senate Appropriations Committee to the Senate floor. (Please see separate story in this issue.)

      The House-passed $20.21 billion NASA authorization bill would enable $2.9 billion more NASA spending than President Bush requested for the space agency in fiscal 2009.

      That drew plaudits from the Aerospace Industries Association, which has member companies in aeronautics and space. The group sees "much-needed support" in the measure for aeronautics, space and other programs.

      "The bill demonstrates continued bi-partisan support [of] a robust NASA budget," Marion Blakey, AIA president and CEO, said.

      She pointed, for example, to the $1 billion extra funding to help reduce the half-decade gap in U.S. space transportation capabilities.

      "The additional funding is a substantial step forward to reduce the impending five-year gap in our ability to travel to space when the space shuttle retires in 2010," Blakey said. "The House should be recognized for its leadership in taking action to reduce this gap."

      Excluding the $1 billion to accelerate the Orion-Ares program, the baseline portion of the measure, at $19.21 billion, represents an increase of just 2.8 percent above the current fiscal 2008 funding levels.

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