House Budget Proposal Could Delay Shuttle Replacement

WASHINGTON-- The U.S. House of Representatives is poised to pass a binding spendingresolution Jan. 31 that NASA says would jeopardize the agency's chances offielding a space shuttle replacement by 2014.

The jointresolution that cleared the House Appropriations Committee Jan. 30 provides noincrease 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 whenCongress decided late last year to scrap all spending bills left unfinished atthe end of the last legislative session and instead fund most agencies at their2006 levels.

At least 40lawmakers had made a plea to give NASA its full 2007 request in order to keepthe Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle and Ares 1 rocket programs on track. But theHouse Appropriations Committee ignored those pleas, giving NASA no top-lineincrease and also denying the agency the flexibility it was seeking in terms ofhow to spend the money it receives.

NASAofficials had been hoping to redirect surplus funds from the internationalspace station, space shuttle and other programs to Orion and Ares to keep thosevehicles on track to enter service by 2014.

Houseappropriators, 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 NASAto spend $890 million on aeronautics this year, $166 million in excess of whatthe agency had planned for.

NASAscience programs would be funded at $5.2 billion, about $100 million less thanwhat NASA had requested for 2007.

At the sametime, the resolution provides only $3.4 billion for exploration systems, $575million less than the agency had requested for 2007.

"Itjeopardizes bringing the new human spacecraft on line by 2014," said NASAspokesman David Mould. "Those funding levels would reduce the money for Orionand Ares to the point where we might not be able to bring the capabilities online by 2014, which is the congressionally approved timeline of course."

Mould alsosaid NASA was disappointed that the spending resolution does not provide thebudget transfer authority the agency had sought.

"We hadhoped to have more flexibility," he said. "You want as much flexibility aspossible to effectively deal with the budget challenges that you have."

Mould couldnot say whether NASA would still go forward with plans to award key contractsthis year for the Ares 1 rocket. NASA released a draft solicitation for theAres 1 upper stage production contract earlier this month with the intent ofawarding a contract late summer.

"I thinkthat's one of the things we are going to have to look at when we get finalaction on all this," he said.

Mouldexpressed hope that some of the budgetary flexibility NASA is seeking mightstill be granted by the Senate, which has yet to take up the spendingresolution.

It is notclear, however, that the Senate will make any changes to the measure. HouseAppropriations Committee Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.), said in a press releaseannouncing the joint resolution that the measure was co-written by SenateAppropriations Committee Chairman Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.)

The Senateis expected to take up the spending resolution within the next week or two.

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Editor-in-Chief, SpaceNews

Brian Berger is the Editor-in-Chief of SpaceNews, a bi-weekly space industry news magazine, and He joined SpaceNews covering NASA in 1998 and was named Senior Staff Writer in 2004 before becoming Deputy Editor in 2008. Brian's reporting on NASA's 2003 Columbia space shuttle accident and received the Communications Award from the National Space Club Huntsville Chapter in 2019. Brian received a bachelor's degree in magazine production and editing from Ohio University's E.W. Scripps School of Journalism.