In Congressional hearings over the past few weeks, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden has warned lawmakers that the space agency would have to scale back its plans for exploration and science if Congress funded NASA at a level considerably lower than the Administration's request of $19 billion for 2011. Congress appears to have been listening.
The deal struck by Democrats and Republicans late on 8 April grants $18.5 billion to NASA, just $200 million less than the 2010 level and $500 million below the President's 2011 request. Both science and space exploration have been spared any disastrous cuts.
There is $3.8 billion for the exploration directorate, which includes $1.8 billion for the development of a heavy-lift vehicle and $1.2 billion for building a multipurpose crew capsule to go into low-Earth orbit. The bill, H.R. 1473, also gives NASA permission to cancel the Constellation Program. Until now, NASA had been prevented from terminating Constellation, which was keeping it from starting on the new initiatives.
The Science Mission Directorate will get $4.945 billion, just $60 million short of what the President requested, and $452 million more than what it got in 2010. However, that amount seems unlikely to be enough to solve some of the science mission's financial difficulties, which includes an over-budget and behind-schedule James Webb Space Telescope.
Some of the other highlights include:
- Space operations gets $5.5 billion for the International Space Station and flying the space shuttle, $600 million less than in 2010. The shuttle program is supposed to end this year.
- Aeronautics gets $535 million, $38 million more than the 2010 level.
- Education gets $145 million, $45 million less than 2010.