House Committee Approves $16.5 Billion NASA Budget

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The House Appropriations Committee approved June 7 a $16.5 billion budget for NASA for 2006 that boosts funding for aeronautics at the expense of some human space flight and exploration programs.

The spending bill, which still must be approved by the full House of Representatives, adds $54 million to NASA’s aeronautics account in order to bring it up to the 2005 spending level of $906 million. Under the White House budget plan, submitted to Congress in February, NASA spending on aeronautics research would decline steadily before leveling out toward the end of the decade at about $700 million a year. That plan is encountering stiff resistance from lawmakers from California, Ohio and Virginia, three states with NASA field centers that specialize in aeronautics research.

House appropriators also added $35 million to revive the Glory climate-monitoring mission. NASA requested only $5 million for Glory to continue work on the mission’s science instrument while searching for alternatives to flying a dedicated spacecraft.

Orbital Sciences Corp. of Dulles, Va., holds the contract to build that satellite. The company is located in the district of Rep. Frank Wolf (R ), chairman of the House Appropriations science, state, justice and commerce subcommittee, which funds NASA.

Wolf has written NASA urging it to continue funding work on the Glory spacecraft, and the agency is expected to decide this summer how to proceed with the mission .

House appropriators also added $10 million for the Space Interferometry Mission (SIM), a planet-finding spacecraft that NASA is considering scaling back due to a projected $500 million overrun that came to light last year. The mission is slated to launch in 2011, but likely will slip to 2013.

Another $50 million was added for unspecified projects that the White House did not include in its request.

Although the House bill provides $15 million more for NASA overall than the White House requested, the extra sum is not nearly enough to cover the increases earmarked for aeronautics, Glory, SIM and the other programs.

To offset the difference, the appropriators cut $131 million from other accounts, including: $50 million from exploration technology ; $31 million from corporate administrative accounts; and $10 million each from the international space station , propulsion research, launch services, space communications and space station cargo delivery services . NASA plans to release a request for proposal by the end of the summer for the cargo delivery services.

The NASA budget is part of a $57.45 billion spending bill that also covers the U.S. departments of Commerce, Justice and State and several federal science agencies. The Senate has yet to take action on a NASA budget bill of its own.