Thursday, November 17, 2011

Congressional compromise chops NASA commercial crew development funds

A budget compromise that congress is expected to pass next week would cut by more than half the $924 million in funding requested by President Obama for the commercial crew program; potentially leaving NASA dependant on Russia for crew transport for an extended period of time.
According to Gannett, Congress is set to approve $406 million for the program that will replace the space shuttle — less than half of the $924 million that NASA originally requested.
The budgeted funding allocation for the commercial crew program, which teams the space agency with private companies to develop a new vehicle for taking astronauts into low Earth orbit, is part of a spending bill that will finance several federal agencies, including the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, in fiscal 2012.
Through the compromise legislation that was brokered by House and Senate negotiators, NASA would be allocated $17.8 billion; a decrease of $648 million from the Fiscal 2011 budget. The reduced funding would still facilitate the development of The James Webb Space Telescope. The telescope is a scientific priority for the space agency, and will receive the $529 million it needs to proceed with a planned 2018 launch.
According to Gannett, the telescope was potentially on the chopping block as lawmakers worked out a compromise funding plan:
House lawmakers had proposed giving the project nothing unless NASA identified programs to delay or eliminate in order to pay for the $8.8 billion telescope, which has been beset by cost overruns. Other NASA-related provisions in the budget deal would provide:
$1.2 billion for the Orion multi-purpose crew vehicle being designed to carry astronauts into deep space.
$1.86 billion for the Space Launch System, the heavy-lift rocket that envisioned to carry Orion on a mission to an asteroid in the mid-2020s and to Mars the next decade.
$573 million related to retirement of the shuttle.
$2.8 billion for the space station.
Another provision would continue to bar NASA and the Office of Science and Technology Policy from engaging in bilateral activities with China unless authorized by Congress.
Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Orlando, called the deal "good news" for the space program. "This budget makes a major investment in the next generation of human spaceflight," he said.

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