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Senate Panel Approves $17.8 Billion For NASA

By | June 23, 2008

      Measure Also Includes $1.1 Billion For NOAA Satellites

      The Senate Appropriations Committee approved a sweeping appropriations bill that includes $17.8 billion for NASA, some $200 million more than President Bush requested for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2009.

      That $17.8 billion is $505 million more than NASA funding in the current fiscal 2008.

      Another part of the spending bill provides $1.1 billion for National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, satellite programs.

      Those monies are part of a far larger $57.9 billion appropriations bill to finance the Commerce Department, Justice Department and many other agencies in fiscal 2009, which is $4.2 billion more than Bush proposed, and $6.1 billion above the fiscal 2008 level.

      While some lawmakers have considered delaying NASA funding legislation until next year, after a newly elected president takes office in January, that isn’t the plan envisioned by the chief Senate architect of NASA funding, Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.), who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee commerce, justice, science and related agencies subcommittee.

      Space & Missile Defense Report asked Mikulski about the speculation that there might be no NASA funding bill this year, so that the space agency would have to operate on a continuing budget resolution well into calendar 2009. A continuing resolution would mean funding levels would be frozen at fiscal 2008 levels through much or all of fiscal 2009.

      That won’t happen, Mikulski said. "We are going to move the bill," she replied.

      Separately, she noted that "this time next year, we will have a new president. This year’s … appropriation will carry agencies through the first year of a new administration, regardless of who will become president."

      Mikulski doesn’t want to leave the federal departments and agencies under her jurisdiction in limbo, with uncertain funding during the turmoil of a new administration taking office.

      "As chairwoman this year, I want to make sure our agencies have the funding to carry out their missions and mandates for continuity of government," she said.

      Her stance drew backing from the chairman of the full committee.

      "I applaud Sen. Mikulski and the members of the committee for supporting this important legislation," Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.), the Senate Appropriations Committee chairman, said.

      The bill also provides $6.854 billion for the National Science Foundation, $789 million above the fiscal 2008 enacted level and equal to the Bush’s request. The total includes $152 million for research equipment and facilities; $300 million for agency operations; and $790 million for education activities.

      NASA Funding

      The NASA funds include $3 billion for the space shuttle program, $2 billion for continued operation of the International Space Station, and $2.9 billion for developing the next-generation U.S. spaceship system, Orion-Ares, under the part of the larger bill that was produced by Mikulski’s subcommittee.

      Lockheed Martin Corp. [LMT] is developing the Orion crew exploration vehicle, a space capsule. And various segments of the Ares rocket to lift Orion into space are being developed by The Boeing Co. [BA], Alliant Techsystems Inc. [ATK], and Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne, a unit of United Technologies Corp. [UTX].

      From the time that the shuttle fleet has been ordered to retire, in October 2010, until the first Orion-Ares manned flight in March 2015, the United States for half a decade won’t even be able to place one U.S. astronaut into space. Rather, Americans will have to pay for rides on Russian Soyuz vehicles, or on commercial space transports that don’t yet exist.

      "It is absolutely unacceptable that we will now have a five year gap during which the only way we’ll be able to get U.S. astronauts to space is aboard a Russian vehicle," Mikulski said. "I am committed to restoring NASA’s budget to ensure the continued safety of our astronauts, and to supporting the critical programs that are the hallmarks of their success."

      For perhaps $1 billion, the gap might be shrunk by a full year, with the initial Orion-Ares manned flight coming in 2014 instead of 2015. There also are some lawmakers pressing for a further shuttle flight or more, past the October 2010 retirement deadline.

      And it’s more than just the gap, but rather a repeated pattern of want throughout NASA programs, she said. "There is simply too much pressure on NASA’s budget, now and in the future," she 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."

      Her bill also provides $4.5 billion for NASA science programs and $500 million for aeronautics research.

      She also pledged to re-introduce her amendment to provide $1 billion in federal funding to pay back NASA for the costs of returning the space shuttle fleet to flight.

      That funding will reimburse critical science, aeronautics and exploration programs that were cut to pay for repairs. It is her third annual attempt to gain approval of her amendment.

      Lest anyone think that repeated rebuffs mean she won’t win, she spent years pressing for funds to finance a space shuttle mission to rescue and repair the Hubble Space Telescope so it can work for perhaps another five years. Although she didn’t gain immediate success in her quest, the Hubble rescue mission lifts off Oct. 8.

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