The House Appropriations Committee is poised to take up a spending measure July 11 that would boost NASA’s 2008 funding to $17.6 billion, an increase of $1.4 billion over this year’s level and some $290 million more than the U.S. space agency requested.

The spending measure cleared the House Appropriations commerce, justice, and science subcommittee June 11 but was stopped on its way to the full committee the following week to give lawmakers time to load the bill with spending earmarks benefiting programs and projects back home.

As it stands, the House version of the Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations Act of 2008 appears more generous toward NASA than the Senate version, which added only $150 million to the space agency’s request.

But the Senate bill cleared the full appropriations committee June 21 with only $70 million in earmarks on board, a modest sum compared to the $568.5 million in directed spending Congress included in the agency’s 2006 budget. It is not yet known whether House appropriators exercised similar restraint.

House appropriators have not revealed nearly as many details about the NASA portion of their spending bill as their Senate counterparts, who gave reporters a copy of their bill and an accompanying report that breaks out recommended spending levels on a program-by-program basis.

Nevertheless, some key differences between the House and Senate versions

already are apparent. House appropriators looked more favorably upon NASA’s Aeronautics Mission Directorate than their Senate counterparts and recommended spending about $150 million above NASA’s request. The Senate version would provide only the $554 million NASA is seeking.

NASA’s Science Mission Directorate fared marginally better


the House version. It would receive

$180 million more than

the $5.5 billion NASA requested.

The Senate version added only $139 million, with nearly all but $2 million of that amount going toward Earth science. The Senate version also funded NASA’s heliophysics programs at $31 million more than

the request, offsetting the increase with

a similar reduction to the agency’s Mars exploration account.

The House and Senate bills also differ in their funding for NASA’s Exploration Systems Mission Directorate. The House bill funds exploration at the requested level of $3.9 billion, while the Senate bill adds just under $50 million with nearly all of the increase going toward the Ares 1, the solid-rocket booster-based crew launch vehicle being developed by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala.

And while the Lunar Precursor and Robotic Program is funded only $100,000 above the requested level in the Senate version, Senate appropriators overruled NASA’s recent decision to scrap plans for a near-term robotic lander mission and close down the Marshall-based program office. The Senate bill directs

the agency to spend almost $49 million next year on the project the agency says it cannot afford and spend $20 million on the office. The directed spending is in addition to the $15.5 million in earmarks inserted in the bill at the request of Sen. Richard Shelby (Ala.), the top Republican on the Senate Appropriations commerce, justice, science subcommittee.

Maryland-based projects also fared

well in the Senate version.

Sen. Barbara Mikulski, (D-Md.)

chairs the subcommittee. In addition to her $15.5 million in earmarks, the spending package directs an additional $20 million toward Solar Probe, a sun-bound mission under study at the Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md. NASA’s Greenbelt, Md.-based Goddard Space Flight Center would get

an extra $138 million for Earth science, nearly $100 million of which is directed at research- and applications-oriented projects. The Senate bill also includes a requirement that NASA at least consider adding a thermal infrared sensor to the Landsat Data Continuity Mission, which Goddard is busy getting ready for a 2011 launch.

Another Goddard-led project, the Hubble Space Telescope, would be funded at $30 million above NASA’s

$277 million request. NASA officials said back in February that the

Hubble request was underfunded by $30 million due to a decision to delay the next shuttle-based servicing mission from May 2008 to September 2008.

Overall, the spending measure adopted by Senate appropriators includes language supportive of NASA’s plans to replace the space shuttles with new vehicles, but says nothing about going to the Moon. It also expresses concern about how other long-standing NASA programs, namely science and aeronautics, will fare as the agency focuses on its new exploration goals.

“NASA’s vision for space exploration maps out an aggressive role for the United States in manned space exploration,” reads the report accompanying the spending bill. “However, the potential costs are substantial and will likely be very difficult to maintain at the current estimated funding levels … Nevertheless, the replacement for the Space Shuttle’s manned and heavy lift capabilities must also be considered as part of any plan for continued human access to space but not to the detriment of existing obligations.”

Explaining its

funding decisions, the report goes on to say: “The Committee is concerned that NASA will neglect areas that only tangentially benefit, or do not fit within, the exploration vision.”

NASA’s science program, the bill states, “is being left behind rather than being nurtured and sustained.”