The House has voted to green-light the $18.5 billion budget that National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) wanted for the next fiscal year but the spending directives were not fully compatible with the priorities of the U.S space agency.
On Wednesday, lawmakers passed the measure 242-183 to spend more than what NASA wanted for a deep-space mission to planet Mars and on planetary science programs. The lawmakers also decided to spend less on Earth science and collaboration with aerospace companies that would develop a vehicle that would ferry astronauts to and from the International Space Station (ISS). The measure still needs to be reconciled with the version of the senate.
The spending bill, which was debated for more than two days, would increase the space agency's current budget by $500 million.
"This bill is an investment in our future, providing NASA with an increase of $518.9 million in funding over the 2015 enacted level, setting the funding authorization and policy direction we need to maintain our preeminence in space and aeronautics," said Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Huntsville.
Some lawmakers wanted more money though. GOP Rep. Brian Babin of Texas, for instance, sought more money for the Commercial Crew program, which was allocated $1 billion so the U.S. will no longer pay Russia $70 million everytime an astronaut gets ferried by the Soyuz rocket to the ISS.
The Commercial Crew program is providing seed money to Boeing and SpaceX so they can develop vehicles that will transport astronauts to the orbiting laboratory. Babin said that it is crucial to end America's reliance on the Russians as soon as possible saying the priorities should be set on the NASA budget to ensure that American astronauts are transported from the U.S. soil and on American vehicles soon.
Republican Bill Posey of Florida likewise raised concern that the budget allotted for the Orion vehicle, which will transport astronauts to the Red Planet, may not be sufficient to keep the program on schedule for the 2021 crewed test flight.
The house spending bill includes allotment for the James Webb Space Telescope, the successor of the Hubble Space Telescope. The space telescope is scheduled for launch in 2018 and comes with $8 billion price tag.
Allocation was also given to a heavy-lift rocket that could eventually bring astronauts to Mars. It was allotted $2.3 billion or nearly $1 billion more than the amount requested by the administration.
$5.2 billion was likewise allocated for science programs with emphasis on planetary exploration albeit NASA wanted to focus on research on the Earth.
Photo: Reinhard Link | Flickr