More than 80 members of the U.S. House of Representatives signed a Nov. 23 letter to U.S. President Barack Obama calling for a $3 billion annual funding increase for NASA’s human spaceflight program, an effort timed to influence senior White House policymakers as they put the finishing touches on the president’s 2011 budget request to be delivered to lawmakers in February.

Spearheaded by Reps. Suzanne Kosmas (D-Fla.) and Ken Calvert (R-Calif.), the letter comes in response to an Oct. 22 report by a White House-appointed panel that found NASA’s current plans to replace the retiring space shuttle with rockets and spacecraft optimized for the Moon is incompatible with the space agency’s budget. The panel, led by former Lockheed Martin chief Norm Augustine, did not endorse the current plan, dubbed Constellation, which includes the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle and Ares 1 rocket. But it did call for a gradual funding increase for NASA of $3 billion annually by 2014.

“While evaluating options for [the] future of human space exploration, the Augustine Committee concluded that regardless of the direction or the details of the program, an increased level of long-term, sustainable funding must be a major component,” House lawmakers wrote in the letter. “The Review Committee’s finding that, ‘Human exploration beyond low-Earth orbit is not viable under the 2010 budget guideline’ demonstrates that NASA’s underfunded budgets over the past several years have slowed the pace of exploration, depleted resources, and frustrated the development of new space systems.”

The letter, which counts 12 members of the House Appropriations Committee among its cosigners, including Calvert, tied technological innovations resulting from NASA’s manned spaceflight program to weightier issues of national security and U.S. competitiveness in the global aerospace market.

“It is critical that we work together to support the long-lasting technological, economic and national security benefits of human spaceflight,” Kosmas said in a Nov. 23 joint statement with Calvert that accompanied the letter.

“The agency’s work is linked to larger issues like national security and American competitiveness,” Calvert said in the statement. “The valuable research done at NASA is also the genesis of tens of thousands of high-tech jobs in America and millions of dollars into our economy.”

Kosmas and Calvert co-chair the NASA House Action Team, a bipartisan group of legislators from across the country who have made advocating for NASA one of their top priorities. Their letter, signed by 42 Democrats and 39 Republicans, also calls for an extension of the international space station through 2020 as called for in the Augustine report.