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Senate Adds $1 Billion To $17.5 Billion NASA Funding

By | October 8, 2007

      Bush Threatens Veto Of Spending Measure

      The Senate added $1 billion to the roughly $17.5 billion NASA portion of a funding bill for fiscal year 2008 that began a week ago, but President Bush has threatened to veto the overall spending measure because it provides more funding than he requested.

      That Senate decision to bolster NASA finances to almost $18.5 billion for the current fiscal year, coming precisely on the 50th anniversary of the space age, was tallied as senators worked on a larger appropriations measure that contains the NASA money.

      Final Senate action on the overall bill funding several agencies is expected soon, and then the House and Senate in a conference committee will have to work out differences between their separate versions of the overall spending bill, and will decide whether the extra $1 billion is included in the final legislation that Congress sends to the White House.

      That basic $17.45 billion NASA funding level by itself is $150 million more than Bush requested, and the $1 billion additional would further exceed Bush’s $17.3 billion desired level.

      Further, the overall bill that funds not just NASA but also many other agencies such as the Commerce Department now weighs in at $56 billion, a total $3.2 billion over Bush’s request.

      But the $1 billion extra for NASA and the $3.2 billion extra for many agencies generally is only right, according to Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.), who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee commerce, justice, science and related agencies subcommittee.

      She shepherded the overall bill on the Senate floor, and she also has pressed vigorously for years for the extra $1 billion for NASA, saying the money is vital if the space agency is to recover from the tragic loss of Space Shuttle Columbia.?Mikulski, a blunt-spoken legislator who never has been afraid of a fight, stated clearly that she is ready to take on Bush if he vetoes funding that NASA needs.

      "Let me be clear," Mikulski said, "We didn’t overspend; the President under funded. The … bill reflects bipartisan priorities to make America safer and smarter."

      She said she is ready to fight Bush if he vetoes the bill.

      "The President should not veto this bill," she said. "If necessary, I believe the Senate will stand up for our families, neighborhoods and communities by standing up against the … veto." Senate rules to override a veto require support from two-thirds of the senators who are present and voting.

      The feisty senator, whose home state includes Goddard Space Flight Center, said it is critical to provide adequate financial support to the space agency, and she has bipartisan support for the extra funding.

      Mikulski worked with other legislators — whose states host major NASA installations — including Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas), Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) and Mary Landrieu (D-La.) — to provide the $1 billion further funding to NASA to cover costs of recovering from the Space Shuttle Columbia tragedy.

      Hutchison’s state is home to Johnson Space Center and its Mission Control, Shelby’s state is home to Marshall Space Flight Center, and Landrieu’s state is home to the Michoud Assembly Facility.

      Other senators joining in the fight for the extra $1 billion include Robert Bennett (R-Utah), Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.), Joseph Lieberman (ID-Conn.), Mel Martinez (R-Fla.), Ken Salazar (D-Colo.) and David Vitter (R-La.).

      The $1 billion is vital "to finally begin to pay the bill of returning the space shuttle [fleet] to flight after the Columbia tragedy," Mikulski said. "To ensure that we continue to have the premier space agency in the world, NASA must have a balanced portfolio of human space flight, science and aeronautics research."

      In 2003, a piece of foam insulation broke free from the external fuel tank on Columbia and punched a hole in the leading edge of a wing on the orbiter vehicle. Later, while returning to Earth, blistering hot gases of reentry rushed into the wing and heated it to the point of structural failure. Both the ship and crew were lost.

      Mikulski and the other lawmakers leading the charge to provide the extra $1 billion drew strong praise from the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA).

      The Senate took a vital step toward maintaining the U.S. position as the world’s leader in space exploration when it passed an amendment infusing NASA with an additional $1 billion, John Douglass, AIA president and CEO, said.

      He noted that the $1 billion would help NASA recover not only from the Columbia disaster, but also from the ravages of Hurricane Katrina that struck NASA Gulf Coast facilities in 2005.

      "This provision will help the United States maintain its global leadership in space by keeping exploration programs on track while providing critical resources to aeronautics research as well as space and Earth science initiatives," Douglass said.

      The funding addresses unexpected costs NASA incurred in space shuttle modifications after the Columbia disaster.

      For example, NASA engineers and experts, plus on-site technicians, removed foam insulation from some parts of external fuel tanks; removed some hardware that was superfluous; tossed aside aluminum components for titanium hardware with better conductive capabilities; instituted exhaustive systems of checks to discover any dangerous damage to shuttle orbiter vehicles after they reach space but before they attempt reentry; and devised multiple on-orbit repair techniques if foam insulation damages orbiter vehicles in future launches. And all of that costs money.

      It was important to secure additional funding for NASA to ensure long-term viability of the U.S. space program, Douglass said.

      The program is at a critical time as it continues the safe fly-out of the shuttle program and begins the early stages of the Constellation Program, which will return astronauts to the moon and continue exploration to Mars and beyond, according to Douglass.

      Mikulski said it was wrong not to compensate NASA after the devastating Columbia loss. NASA "was never fully reimbursed and was forced to make dramatic cuts to other programs," she said. "I am committed to restoring this agency’s budget to ensure the continued safety of our astronauts, and to supporting the critical programs that are the hallmarks of their success."

      There is a clear precedent to make the space agency whole after it suffered an immense loss.

      "In 1987, Congress allocated $2.7 billion in the aftermath of the Challenger tragedy to pay for a replacement shuttle," Mikulski recalled. So why, she asked, shouldn’t Congress respond in like fashion to the Columbia loss?

      Challenger and its crew were lost amid explosions as O-rings on the solid rocket boosters failed in frigid weather seconds after lift-off.

      That extra $1 billion "will pay back the costs of returning the [shuttle fleet] to flight and restore cuts to science, aeronautics and exploration programs that were cut in order to pay for the return to flight," she said.

      "The $1 billion will be declared as an emergency under the terms of the budget resolution and is a one-time allocation.

      "There is simply too much pressure on NASA’s budget – now and in the future," Mikulski said. "The only way to reduce the pressure on the budget, and maintain a balanced space program, is to increase our federal commitment to NASA and our national space program."

      The measure also provides $5.66 billion for NASA science programs. Earth science is funded at $1.6 billion and includes $25 million for studies to begin implementing the recently released National Research Council Decadal Survey, "Earth Science and Applications from Space: Urgent Needs and Opportunities to Serve the Nations."

      It calls for 14 high-priority NASA earth science missions.

      As well, the bill provides full funding for continued development of the James Webb Space Telescope, and for the Hubble Servicing Mission scheduled for next September. The bill also includes $554 million for aeronautics research.

      "This is so critical because we must rise to the challenge of our international competitors," she said. "Aeronautics is an area that we would have liked to do more. As our bill moves to conference with the other body, we hope to be able to add funding for aeronautics."

      Aside from the $1 billion restoration money for the space agency, there also is a smaller increase in NASA funding tucked into the bill.

      "The bill … provides $17.5 billion for NASA, $150 million above the President’s budget request," Mikulski noted. But that is appropriate, because "NASA is our number one innovation agency," she explained. "No other agency has the ability to inspire our future scientists and engineers like NASA does."

      Mikulski said the bill provides solid funding for major NASA programs.

      "The bill keeps our commitment to human space flight," she said. "It fully funds the space shuttle [program] at $4 billion and the [International] Space Station at $2.2 billion."

      Only the shuttles have the size and power to hoist giant structural components into orbit to finish construction of the space station, which currently is about 60 percent complete.

      That’s why it is critical to continue funding the space shuttles, since the shuttle fleet is set for retirement in 2010, Mikulski indicated. "We must continue to have safe, reliable space transportation," she said.

      After 2010, the United States — the nation that put men on the moon — won’t even be able to put a single astronaut in low Earth orbit, at least not until the next-generation spaceship Constellation Program and its Orion-Ares craft, will be prepared for manned flight beginning in 2015.

      The fiscal 2008 NASA budget measure would "provide $3.9 billion to Ares and Orion," Mikulski observed.

      The bill also funds weather and planetary observation programs.

      "For the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the bill provides $4.2 billion, $400 million above the President’s budget request," Mikulski noted. "This includes $795 million to implement the bipartisan recommendations of the Joint Ocean Commission. Seventy percent of the Earth is covered by oceans, but only 5 percent of the oceans are explored. Our nation’s economy depends on the oceans. Oceans contribute $120 billion to our economy and support over 2 million jobs."

      For weather programs specifically, "The bill also provides full funding for the National Weather Service, which is so important to saving lives and livelihoods," she said.

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