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House passes modest funding increase for NASA

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According to a Friday story in Florida Today, the House passed an appropriations bill that funds NASA at $17.9 billion. It was a modest $250 million than the space agency in the current fiscal year and $400 million more than President Obama requested. The bill now goes to the Senate for consideration.

Al.com notes that the bill funds the heavy lift Space Launch System for the fifth year running. This means that the rocket designed to take astronauts beyond low Earth orbit will likely survive attacks from its critics and will become reality. The same could also be said for the Orion spacecraft that the SLS is designed to launch. What sort of missions the rocket will service, to an asteroid, back to the moon, and/or some other destination is still a matter of controversy.

The bill also funds the commercial crew program, designed to develop government funded but privately operated spacecraft to service the International Space Station, but once again at a lower funding level than the president has requested. Congress would like NASA to select one vendor out of the three that are now competing for ISS contracts to save money. The administration would like to have at least two vendors servicing the space station.

The House bill also funds a number of other NASA programs. These include the James Webb Space Telescope, set to launch in 2018 and robotic space missions, including a 2020 mission to Mars and $100 million for an eventual Europa mission. The bill also provides more money for NASA aeronautics and security programs than the president requested.

While the House funding bill provides the first actual funding increase NASA has enjoyed in a while, what the Senate might do is uncertain. Considering the crisis with Russia, upon whom the United States is entirely dependent on space flights to the ISS, the Senate may increase funding for the commercial crew program. The upper body is expected to reveal its thinking on the matter in the coming week.

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