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U.S. Budget Compromise Includes $18.5 Billion for NASA
President Barack Obama makes a phone call with the crew of the Space Shuttle Discovery and the International Space Station from the Oval Office, March 3, 2011. Listening in the background are, from left: Ted Wackler, Acting Chief of Staff, Office of Science and Technology; Damon Wells, Assistant Director for Aeronautics and Space, Office of Science and Technology; and NASA Administrator Charles Bolden.
Credit: Official White House Photo by Samantha Appleton

WASHINGTON — The 2011 budget compromise Congress and the White House reached April 8 to avert a government shutdown includes $18.485 billion for NASA, or about 1.3 percent less than the $18.724 billion the U.S. space agency was given for 2010.

Details of the proposal, which includes a $38 billion reduction in nondefense spending, were posted April 12 on the House Appropriations Committee website.

Most of the NASA savings were achieved by funding Space Operations — an account that includes the international space station and soon-to-be-retired space shuttle — at about $600 million below the 2010 level and denying increases the White House sought for Science, Aeronautics and Education. There's also no funding specified for Space Technology, a roughly $300 million account NASA hopes to boost to $1 billion next year.

Exploration is the big winner in the NASA portion of the spending bill Congress intends to enact this week to keep the federal government funded for the remainder of fiscal 2011, which runs through September.

The bill, H.R. 1473, carves out $3.8 billion for Exploration, including $1.2 billion for a multipurpose crew vehicle based on NASA's in-development Orion capsule and $1.8 billion for a heavy-lift vehicle "which shall have a lift capability not less than 130 tons and which shall have an upper stage and other core elements developed simultaneously."

Exploration was funded at $3.625 billion in 2010, a sum that would rise to $3.7 billion under the agency's spending plan for 2012.

H.R. 1473 also frees NASA to formally cancel the Constellation program under which it has been developing the Ares family of rockets and an Orion spacecraft optimized for manned lunar missions. 

Another policy provision prohibits NASA and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy from engaging in bilateral activities with China. 

Among the other budget details released April 12:

  • The NASA Science Mission Directorate — that part of the agency that funds planetary probes, space telescopes and environmental satellites — will receive $4.945 billion for the remainder of 2011, or about $2 million below the 2010 level.
  • Space Operations is funded at $5.5 billion, or about $600 million less than 2010.
  • Aeronautics research is funded at $535 million, or about $38 million more than 2010.
  • Cross Agency Support is funded at $3.1 billion, or about $100 million more than 2010.
  • Construction and Environmental Compliance is funded at $394 million, or about $58 million less than 2010.
  • Education is funded at $145 million, or about $45 million less than 2010.

No budget is specified for NASA's Office of Inspector General. The watchdog office has received $36 million in recent years.

This story was provided by Space News, dedicated to covering all aspects of the space industry.