The Senate Appropriations Committee rejected a budget request from NASA on June 11, in a move the space agency says could affect the ability to launch astronauts into space in the near future. Since the Space Shuttles were retired in 2011, NASA has depended on Russia to ferry astronauts to and from the International Space Station (ISS).
NASA requested $1.2 billion for the Commercial Crew program, an increase from $900 million. That cooperative program between NASA, Boeing and SpaceX is designed to launch astronauts into space from American soil for the first time since the end of the shuttle program. The funding increase was introduced by senator Barbara Mikulsky of Maryland as an amendment to a spending bill under consideration by the committee. The proposal was defeated 16-14 in a party-line vote.
This vote resulted in NASA Administrator Charles Bolden releasing a statement berating the committee for denying the funding request.
"I am deeply disappointed that the Senate Appropriations subcommittee does not fully support NASA's plan to once again launch American astronauts from U.S. soil as soon as possible, and instead favors continuing to write checks to Russia," Bolden said in a tersely-worded statement.
Bolden spoke of how money that could be invested in the American economy is, instead, sent to Russia. The House of Representatives had previously reduced the budget for the program relative to the rest of the federal budget, Bolden stated.
The funding request from Mikulski was part of a package of $3 billion of additional spending proposed by the senator. While Democrats voted in favor of the measure, Republicans voted against the spending.
"Given the fiscal boundaries that have been set, I believe this bill does a good job of balancing the priorities of our committee members and the nation," said Richard Shelby, Republican senator from Alabama.
NASA officials say the Commercial Crew program will require $1.24 billion to meet their goal of once again launching humans to the International Space Station starting in the year 2017.
American astronauts are currently riding into space aboard Russian Soyuz spacecraft at a cost of $75 million per passenger. Currently, NASA is contracted to send six astronauts per year into space aboard Russian rockets through the end of 2017. The space agency has also started the process of purchasing six more tickets to be redeemed between 2018 and 2020.
"I support investing in America so that we can once again launch our astronauts on American vehicles," Bolden stated in the press release on the decision.