WASHINGTON — House and Senate negotiators reached agreement Dec. 8 on a 2010 omnibus spending bill that includes $18.7 billion for NASA — a $942 million increase over the agency’s 2009 budget — and includes a provision that would prevent the agency from scaling back or canceling its current human spaceflight activities in the absence of formal legislative approval from congressional appropriators.

Earlier this year, a White-House appointed panel known as the Review of U.S. Human Spaceflight Plans Committee, led by former Lockheed Martin chief Norm Augustine, found NASA’s current plan to replace the space shuttle with rockets and spacecraft optimized for the Moon is incompatible with the agency’s projected budget. The administration of U.S. President Barack Obama is weighing a number of scenarios outlined in the Augustine panel’s Oct. 22 final report, and is expected to make a decision in the coming weeks that likely will reshape the future of NASA’s manned spaceflight activities and investments.

“In the absence of a bona fide proposal from the Administration on the future of U.S. human spaceflight activities and investments, the bill provides the budget request of $3.8 billion for activities to support human spaceflight in fiscal year 2010,” House lawmakers wrote in a Dec. 8 summary of the 2010 Consolidated Appropriations Act, which combines six spending bills, including the Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Appropriations Act for 2010 that directs NASA spending. “However, the bill requires that any program termination or elimination or the creation of any new program, project or activity not contemplated in the budget request must be approved in subsequent appropriations Acts.”

NASA is developing its space shuttle replacement system and other exploration hardware under a program called Constellation.

Within the $3.8 billion appropriated for exploration, the conference bill includes $100 million for “heavy lift cargo launch capability” and $39.1 million for development of commercially procured cargo transport to the international space station under NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services contract.

The bill trims $28 million from the agency’s $6.17 billion request for space operations and another $6 million from NASA aeronautics programs. It also shaves $3 million from NASA science programs and reduces the president’s $3.4 billion request for cross-agency support by $206 million. The bill includes $448.3 million for construction and environmental compliance.

The full House of Representatives must approve the omnibus spending package before it can be taken up in the Senate, where debate on health care reform continues. A current continuing resolution to maintain 2009 funding levels for federal programs not covered by enacted appropriations bills expires Dec. 18.