Senators Boost NASA Budget, Reject $1 Billion Increase

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  Space News Business

Senators Boost NASA Budget, Reject $1 Billion Increase

By BRIAN BERGER
Space News Staff Writer
posted: 09 July 2007
04:06 pm ET













WASHINGTON —


Senate appropriators




approved a 2008 NASA budget of nearly $17.46 billion




June 28,




$150 million more




than the White House requested. All of the additional money – and more – was designated for




science programs and lawmakers’ pet projects.

But a $1 billion cash




infusion proposed by one of the U.S. space agency’s champions to help NASA regain some of the budget ground it lost after the 2003 Space Shuttle Columbia accident did not make it into the bill during the Senate Appropriations Committee’s June 28 mark up of the $54.6 billion Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations Act of 2008. The House version of the bill would fund NASA at $290 million above its request.

Last year, Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), the chairman of the Senate Appropriations commerce, justice, science subcommittee, convinced a majority of her appropriations colleagues to go along with adding $1 billion in emergency NASA spending to the bill.




The legislation, however, was tossed out in December in favor of moving a stripped-down spending measure that funded most agencies, including NASA, this year at their 2006 levels.

As expected, Mikulski offered her NASA amendment again




June 28 backed by Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas), Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and Richard Shelby (R-Ala.). She said the extra money was needed to help pay NASA back the roughly $2 billion it spent recovering from the Columbia accident and returning the space shuttle fleet to flight.



Committee Chairman Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) objected to the amendment, saying adopting it would violate his pledge to make sure that all appropriations bills sent to the floor adhere to the spending limits agreed




to in a House-Senate budget resolution passed in May.



The overall bill stays within those congressionally




set limits, but exceeds the White House requests for the affected agencies by $3.2 billion.




President George W. Bush said June 16 he would “veto bills with excessive levels of spending.”





Two-thirds of the additional money would go to the U.S. Justice Department for local law enforcement programs. Another $400 million would be used to boost the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s budget to $4.2 billion, with all of the additional money going to an oceans stewardship initiative.

Byrd said he would prefer Mikulski wait until the bill reaches the floor before introducing what he termed a controversial amendment.

Mikulski said the extra $1 billion would be treated as emergency spending not subject to the agreed-




to spending limits, but deferred to Byrd and withdrew her amendment. She said she plans to re-introduce it on the Senate floor, where it would need to garner 60 votes to be included in the bill.

In its current form, the spending bill would provide $5.66




billion




for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, $139 million more than








the request. Nearly all of that money would be used to boost NASA Earth science spending to $1.64




billion. Within that amount, NASA would be required to spend $25 million to begin studies to implement the recommendations of the National Research Council’s recent 10-year plan for Earth science, which called




for NASA to undertake a slate of 15 new missions in the decade ahead.

NASA’s planetary science division, however, would get




$1.37




billion in 2008, nearly $30 million less than the White House request.




The astrophysics division, which builds and operates space telescopes, would be funded at the requested level of $1.57




billion, while the heliophysics division, which studies the sun, would get $31.2 million




more than its $1.05 billion request, with a good portion of the extra cash directed at a Solar Probe mission study to be conducted by the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md.



NASA’s Exploration Systems Mission Directorate would be funded at $3.9




billion, nearly $900 million




more than the 2007 budget and nearly $50 million more than the request




. Of that amount, $3.1 billion would go to the Constellation program, which is in charge of building the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle and the Ares 1 crew launch vehicle. Those two projects would receive $950 million and $1.2 billion respectively.



NASA’s Space Operations Mission Directorate, which includes the space shuttle and international space station programs, would be funded at $6.79




billion, or $300,000 more than




the request.

NASA’s Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate




would be funded at the requested level of $554 million.

Also included in the NASA section of the bill is $69.5 million in so-called earmarks, which are targeted expenditures for lawmakers’ home states, also known as pork.

Roughly half of the earmarks were added to the bill at the request of Mikulski and Shelby. Most of Mikulski’s $15.5 million in earmarks are targeted at NASA-related research projects at Maryland-based universities, while Shelby’s $15.5 million in earmarks




generally are targeted at NASA’s Huntsville, Ala.-based Marshall Space Flight Center.

Not included in Shelby’s earmark tally is the $48.7 million included in the bill to fund a Marshall-led robotic lunar lander project NASA canceled earlier this year. Agency officials have said




they




cannot afford the estimated half-a-billion-dollar-plus price tag. The bill covers the lander money by increasing NASA’s Exploration Systems Mission Directorate budget by a like amount above




the $3.92 billion request.



The Senate Appropriations Committee’s top Democrat and Republican together are responsible for another




$15.5 billion in earmarks.




Byrd




requested $5.5 million in earmarks, the largest being $3 million for Wheeling Jesuit University to expand its electronic medical records system. Sen. Thad Cochran (Miss.), the full committee’s ranking Republican, requested $10 million in earmarks, the biggest being $4




million for NASA’s Stennis Space Center “to continue a longstanding technology/industry partnership in assisting transitioning space technologies into the commercial sector.”

Cochran also requested $3 million to help Stennis make infrastructure improvements for Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle testing.