Both the House and the Senate passed the omnibus budget bill, HR 4818, yesterday, with the Senate finally passing the bill a little after midnight. (The bill actually won’t be delivered to the President for a few days because of a last-minute glitch with language in the bill regarding Congressional access to tax returns, which will apparently be handled by a separate bill in the next few days.) As previously noted, the bill gives NASA $16.2 billion, roughly the full amount requested by President Bush. However, as the Orlando Sentinel reports, the bill gives NASA an unusual degree of flexibility to determine how much of that money it needs to return the shuttle to flight and begin a Hubble repair mission. NASA must report to Congress within 60 days regarding how much money it needs and how it plans to reallocate its funding accordingly.
Some more details about NASA’s budget are buried in the conference report on the omnibus budget bill. (The section that deals with the VA-HUD-independent agencies portion of the bill is here [warning: large PDF file], with the subsection that deals with NASA begins on page 176 of the PDF file, or printed page 116.) A few interesting tidbits gleaned from an early morning review:
- The budget includes only $10 million for the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) mission—compared to $70 million in the original request—with a directive that at least a quarter of the money spent on LRO instruments be used for basic science research rather than exploration-driven objectives. (The hand-edited document shows that they previously planned to give LRO $20 million, then cut it apparently at the last minute.)
- The budget includes $25 million for the X-43C, the successor to the just-completed X-43A hypersonic research program. NASA had announced earlier this year that they were canceling the X-43C since it did not fit into the exploration program.
- The budget includes $10 million for the Centennial Challenges prize program, “subject to passage of authorizing legislation.” I did not see an explicit mention of a provision that would increase the limit on prizes from its current level of $250,000.
- The report notes that “conferees are prepared to commit funds for development of a Crew Exploration Vehicle [CEV], but remain concerned that there has not been enough initial planning to determine what specific capabilities the CEV should have.” The report calls on NASA to deliver a report “that details the criteria and developmental goals the CEV must meet to accomplish the missions envisioned by NASA” to Congress within 60 days.