House approves new direction for spaceflight

The US Congress has approved NASA’s budget for 2011, funding plans to develop commercial rockets and add one more shuttle flight to the two already scheduled.

After a year of debate, the House of Representatives passed the budget, which allows for spending of $58 billion over three years, by 304 to 118.

“We are grateful that the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Authorization Act of 2010 received strong support in the House after its clearance in the Senate, and can now be sent on to the President for his signature,” said NASA administrator Charles Bolden.

“This important change in direction will not only help us chart a new path in space, but can help us retool for the industries and jobs of the future that will be vital for long term economic growth.”

The bill brings to an end the Constellation program which aimed to return men to the moon. It also extends the life of the International Space Station by an extra five years to 2020. $7 billion goes for the the development of a heavy launcher for missions to the International Space Station and beyond, which should now be operational within six years.

In the meantime, the budget allocates $1.3 billion over the next three years for the use of commercial launchers from the private sector, which would ferry cargo and astronauts to the ISS after the last shuttle flight. In practice, this means relying on Russia’s Soyuz system.

““Six months ago we were faced with an Administration proposal that would have ended the era of U.S. dominance in space exploration, threatened our utilization of and investment in the International Space Station, and jeopardized America’s leadership in manned space flight,” said Texas senator Kay Bailey Hutchison.

“This bill provides needed direction to NASA that will preserve many of the jobs and critical skills the agency would continue to lose amid budgetary uncertainty.”