Jun 15 2007

Marshall programs get boost Panel raises Bush budget request, funds exploration

The Huntsville Times

By Shelby Spires

If the NASA budget makes it through Congress unscathed this year, the agency should have more money than the White House asked for, including full funding for rockets that Marshall Space Flight Center is developing, U.S. Rep. Bud Cramer said Thursday.

The U.S. House Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies released its draft of the NASA budget this week, Cramer said, increasing President Bush's space agency money request by about $290 million to $17.6 billion for fiscal 2008.

"That's more than what the president wanted, and it is what NASA needs," said Cramer, D-Huntsville. "I'm very happy with this. Just a few weeks ago I thought, in this budget climate, I was just hoping we could get the president's request. Now we've done even better."

The bill will go to the House Appropriations Committee next week, said Cramer, a member of the committee, "and I feel optimistic that it will get voted on by the House sometime before we recess in August."

"It's a tight budget year, but I'm much more confident now with this early plus up to the NASA budget."

The bill will have to be passed by the full House and sent onto the Senate before it is sent to Bush to be signed.

"This gives Marshall what it needs," Cramer said. "I've been in touch with Marshall Space Flight Center (leaders), and they are very happy with what this does with Marshall."

Almost $4 billion was included for key exploration programs that NASA needs to develop, such as the Marshall-managed Ares rocket that NASA hopes will return astronauts to the moon, Cramer said.

"This budget will certainly keep those programs alive and well," he said.

The budget would reverse some of the money shortages NASA has experienced over the past year. Congress failed to approve a 2007 budget, which effectively froze current programs and kept the space agency from beginning new work.

NASA Administrator Mike Griffin made a move to slash several programs to make up for the nearly $500 million shortage, including attempting to close a Marshall lunar robotics office. Griffin reversed his decision after a public spat with Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Tuscaloosa.

Increasing the budget should put NASA back to work on key science and education programs, as well as return missions to the moon, said Mark McDaniel, a Huntsville lawyer who advises members of Congress on space issues.

"It's certainly a move in the right direction, and hopefully it will stay on track through the budget process," McDaniel said. "I know the members of Congress I speak with all are very much in tune and interested in getting the NASA budget increased and want to reverse some of the budget setbacks that have come about over the past year or so."

McDaniel said the NASA budget during the Apollo era was more than 5 percent of the entire federal spending plan.

"Now it is less than 1 percent, but they have to do practically more than they did then with science and education, but with much less," he said.

"We can't just throw money at any government agency, but we also can't expect NASA to accomplish the things they do - research on the space station and going back to the moon - without having to pay for it."