WASHINGTON Congress is nearing approval of a measure that would allow NASA to continue buying Russian hardware for the international space station program beyond 2011 as part of a temporary spending measure meant to keep most U.S. government agencies funded at 2008 levels for the next six months.
The Consolidated Security, Disaster Assistance and Continuing Appropriations Act for 2009 (H.R. 2638) would fund NASA at its 2008 level of $17.3 billion through March 6, 2009. In addition, the bill would amend the Iran-North Korea-Syria Non-proliferation Act (INKSNA) to permit NASA to continue buying Russian Soyuz crew capsules and Progress cargo vehicles for the international space station through July 1, 2016.
The House of Representatives was voting on H.R. 2638 the afternoon of Sept. 23.
The date change included in the so-called continuing resolution differs markedly from the INKSNA waiver legislation (S. 3103) approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Sept. 23. That bill, the International Space Station Payment Act of 2008, would permit NASA to keep buying manned Soyuz flights past 2011 but did not extend to the unmanned Progress flights.
By allowing NASA's authority to purchase Progress flights to expire at the end of 2011, the bill's backers were hoping to keep the pressure on NASA to buy space station re-supply flights from commercial companies such as Dulles, Va.-based Orbital Sciences Corp. and Hawthorne, Calif.-based Space Exploration Technologies, both of which are developing cargo tugs with financial assistance from NASA.
Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), S. 3103's primary champion in the Senate, has warned in recent weeks that if time ran out on passing that measure his fallback position would be to use the continuing resolution to extend NASA's current INKSNA waiver as is.
In addition to granting NASA permission to begin negotiating with Russia for Soyuz flights for 2012 and beyond, the continuing resolution would set aside $30 million for NASA to spend repairing hurricane and other severe weather-related damage at its facilities. It would also create firewalls between NASA's aeronautics, science, exploration and space operations budget accounts, making it more difficult for the agency to shift funds between its various mission directorates.
The continuing resolution would deny NASA the roughly $300 million increase it has been seeking all year for 2009 and would force the agency to get by for at least half of the new budget year at 2008 spending levels.
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