Economic Stimulus Bill Contains $1 Billion for NASA Programs

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WASHINGTON — The $787 billion economic stimulus package expected to be ready for U.S. President Barack Obama to sign by Feb. 16 includes $1 billion for NASA.

The U.S. House of Representatives passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (H.R. 1) Feb. 13. The Senate was poised at press time to vote on the bill that evening.

The bill, a mixture of federal spending and tax cuts aimed to jump-start the flagging economy, includes $400 million to help NASA narrow the gap between the planned 2010 retirement of the space shuttle and the first flight of its successor. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) initially pushed for $500 million to accelerate the first flight of the Ares 1 rocket and Orion crew capsule.

NASA officials have said that moving up the first flight of Ares and Orion from 2015 to 2013 would require an extra $2 billion for each of the next two years.

U.S. Rep Susan Kosmas (D-Fla.), who defeated former Rep. Tom Feeney in November to represent the area surrounding NASA’s , tried to no avail to add $2 billion to the House version specifically for narrowing the gap. Before the bill had been finalized, Hawthorne, Calif.-based Space Exploration Technologies, issued a public appeal to lawmakers to earmark at least $300 million of the included exploration money to fund crewed demonstration flights of the spacecraft and rocket it is building to transport cargo to the international space station.

The stimulus package bound for Obama’s desk also includes $400 million for NASA’s Earth science and climate monitoring projects, $150 million for aeronautics and $50 million to repair facilities damaged by Hurricane Ike and Gustav last summer. NASA’s Office of the Inspector General – the agency’s internal watchdog – would receive $2 million.

House and Senate conferees agreed on $1 billion for NASA in a deal reached Feb. 11 over the entire stimulus package. The compromise roughly split the difference between the Senate’s $1.3 billion request for NASA and the $600 million proposed by the House. Congressional negotiators adopted the House’s numbers for science, aeronautics and hurricane repairs and added the $400 million the Senate approved for narrowing the gap.

Chris Shank, a former NASA budget official and congressional staffer, applauded the space agency’s inclusion in the stimulus package.

“Out of an $800 billion stimulus package, Congress’s strong support for NASA with $1 billion or almost one- eighth of 1 percent of the overall package shows their recognition that NASA has a positive, multiplier effect on our nation’s economy,” he said. “Everyone recognizes that the agency was being asked to do too much with too little for too many years.”

Meanwhile, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) would receive $600 million for satellite development and acquisitions, including climate sensors and climate modeling.

The legislation does not specify which satellites or sensors would be funded.

NOAA dropped some climate sensors from the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System after restructuring the program two years ago to rein in costs. The agency plans to restore two of those sensors, the Clouds and Earth’s Radiation Energy System and the Total Solar Irradiance Sensor, provided Congress includes $74 million in this year’s budget.

NOAA also had removed a sounding instrument called the Hyperspectral Environmental Suite from its next-generation series of Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites (GOES-R) to cut program costs. NOAA awarded a contract to Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Lockheed Martin to build two GOES-R satellites, with options for two more, in December. At the time, NOAA officials held open the possibility of adding the sounder to the two optional satellites.