WASHINGTON — Congress is nearing approval of a measurethat would allow NASA to continue buying Russian hardware for the internationalspace station program beyond 2011 as part of a temporary spending measure meantto keep most U.S. government agencies funded at 2008 levels for the next sixmonths.
The Consolidated Security, Disaster Assistance andContinuing Appropriations Act for 2009 (H.R. 2638) would fund NASA at its 2008level of $17.3 billion through March 6, 2009. In addition, the bill would amendthe Iran-North Korea-Syria Non-proliferation Act (INKSNA) to permit NASA tocontinue buying Russian Soyuz crew capsules and Progress cargo vehicles for theinternational space station through July 1, 2016.
The House of Representatives was voting on H.R. 2638 theafternoon of Sept. 23.
The date change included in the so-called continuingresolution differs markedly from the INKSNA waiverlegislation (S. 3103) approved by the Senate Foreign Relations CommitteeSept. 23. That bill, the International Space Station Payment Act of 2008, wouldpermit NASA to keep buying manned Soyuz flights past 2011 but did not extend tothe unmanned Progress flights.
By allowing NASA's authority to purchase Progress flightsto expire at the end of 2011, the bill's backers were hoping to keep the pressureon NASA to buy space station re-supply flights from commercial companies suchas Dulles, Va.-based Orbital Sciences Corp. and Hawthorne, Calif.-based SpaceExploration Technologies, both of which are developing cargo tugs withfinancial assistance from NASA.
Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), S. 3103's primary champion inthe Senate, has warned inrecent weeks that if time ran out on passing that measure his fallbackposition would be to use the continuing resolution to extend NASA's currentINKSNA waiver as is.
In addition to granting NASA permission to beginnegotiating with Russia for Soyuz flights for 2012 and beyond, the continuingresolution would set aside $30 million for NASA to spend repairing hurricaneand other severe weather-related damage at its facilities. It would also createfirewalls between NASA's aeronautics, science, exploration and space operationsbudget accounts, making it more difficult for the agency to shift funds betweenits 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 theagency to get by for at least half of the new budget year at 2008 spendinglevels.
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Brian Berger is the Editor-in-Chief of SpaceNews, a bi-weekly space industry news magazine, and SpaceNews.com. 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.