WASHINGTON -- The U.S. House of Representatives is poised to pass a binding spending resolution Jan. 31 that NASA says would jeopardize the agency's chances of fielding a space shuttle replacement by 2014.
The joint resolution that cleared the House Appropriations Committee Jan. 30 provides no increase for NASA over its 2006 budget of $16.2 billion. NASA had been seeking $16.79 billion for 2007, but the agency's budget request was tossed out when Congress decided late last year to scrap all spending bills left unfinished at the end of the last legislative session and instead fund most agencies at their 2006 levels.
At least 40 lawmakers had made a plea to give NASA its full 2007 request in order to keep the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle and Ares 1 rocket programs on track. But the House Appropriations Committee ignored those pleas, giving NASA no top-line increase and also denying the agency the flexibility it was seeking in terms of how to spend the money it receives.
NASA officials had been hoping to redirect surplus funds from the international space station, space shuttle and other programs to Orion and Ares to keep those vehicles on track to enter service by 2014.
House appropriators, in a joint resolution posted on the committee's Web site, instead redirected some of that surplus toward NASA's aeronautics programs, which have seen declining budgets in recent years. The resolution directs NASA to spend $890 million on aeronautics this year, $166 million in excess of what the agency had planned for.
NASA science programs would be funded at $5.2 billion, about $100 million less than what NASA had requested for 2007.
At the same time, the resolution provides only $3.4 billion for exploration systems, $575 million less than the agency had requested for 2007.
"It jeopardizes bringing the new human spacecraft on line by 2014," said NASA spokesman David Mould. "Those funding levels would reduce the money for Orion and Ares to the point where we might not be able to bring the capabilities on line by 2014, which is the congressionally approved timeline of course."
Mould also said NASA was disappointed that the spending resolution does not provide the budget transfer authority the agency had sought.
"We had hoped to have more flexibility," he said. "You want as much flexibility as possible to effectively deal with the budget challenges that you have."
Mould could not say whether NASA would still go forward with plans to award key contracts this year for the Ares 1 rocket. NASA released a draft solicitation for the Ares 1 upper stage production contract earlier this month with the intent of awarding a contract late summer.
"I think that's one of the things we are going to have to look at when we get final action on all this," he said.
Mould expressed hope that some of the budgetary flexibility NASA is seeking might still be granted by the Senate, which has yet to take up the spending resolution.
It is not clear, however, that the Senate will make any changes to the measure. House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.), said in a press release announcing the joint resolution that the measure was co-written by Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.)
The Senate is expected to take up the spending resolution within the next week or two.