NASA Seeks 30-Percent Increase for Exploration Program

WASHINGTON-- Efforts to replace the space shuttle fleet with new Moon-bound spacecraftwould receive big spending increases under NASA's 2007 budget request, whilenearly every other part of the U.S. space agency's budget would be held flat ordecline.

Overall,NASA's budget would rise just 1 percent, or about $170 million, under the 2007request the White House sent to Congress today. NASA officials, however, arequick to point out that the $16.792 billion budget request amounts to a3-percent increase if $350 million in hurricane-recovery money Congress addedto NASA's 2006 budget is left out of the equation.

The bigwinner in NASA's 2007 budget request is the Exploration Systems MissionDirectorate, which is responsible for developing the Crew Exploration Vehicle,two new launchers and the lunar landers needed to return astronauts to the Moonby 2020. Its budget would rise 30 percent, or $928 million, in 2007 to $3.978billion -- nearly $300 million ahead of previous budget forecasts.

NASAofficials say the agency still expects to field the Crew Exploration Vehicle in2012 but no later than 2014, the deadline President George W. Bush set when hecalled for retiring the shuttle and building a replacement spacecraft thatcould ferry crews to the international space station and eventually carryastronauts to the Moon.

NASA isasking for $4 billion for the space shuttle program for 2007, about $700million less than the agency expects to spend this year as it scrambles toready Discovery for its second flight since the 2003 Space Shuttle Columbiadisaster.

Internationalspace station spending, meanwhile, would rise slightly to $1.8 billion inanticipation to being back to assembling the orbital outpost after a hiatus oflonger than three years.

In sharpcontrast to NASA's previous budget plan, the agency's Science MissionDirectorate -- which builds and operates planetary probes, space telescopes andEarth-observing satellites -- would see its budget increase just 1.5 percent to$5.33 billion in 2007 and then level off to 1-percent annual increasesthereafter. NASA last year forecast that science spending would rise 8 percentto 9 percent annually through the end of the decade.

Aeronauticsspending would fall to $724 million, a $160 million drop.

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