‘Tough’ NASA budget provides for third shuttle flight

NASA’s much-desired third and final Shuttle flight this year looks likely to go ahead, following the release of its 2012 budget request.

NASA’s $18.7 billion budget request includes $4.3 billion for the space shuttle and International Space Station programs, $5 billion for science, $3.9 billion for future exploration systems and $569 million for aeronautics research.

It covers all elements of NASA’s 2010 Authorization Act, signed into law by President Obama, including a planned shuttle launch in June.

“We had to make some tough choices, but the budget gives us a plan for sustainable and affordable exploration,” said NASA’s chief financial officer, Elizabeth Robinson. “We’re looking at new ways of doing business that improve program management and delivers even greater results to the American taxpayers.”

The International Space Station will operate until at least 2020, as a technology test-bed and national laboratory for human health research. NASA says it plans to select a non-profit organization to stimulate, develop and manage research activities on the US portion of the station.

NASA says it’s prioritized funding for its partnership with the commercial space industry to facilitate crew and cargo transport to the station. It will also itelf invest in flight systems to take humans beyond low Earth orbit, including a deep space capsule and heavy lift rocket, and key research and technology to enable the long journeys.

“This budget requires us to live within our means so we can invest in our future,” NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said. “It maintains our commitment to human spaceflight and provides for strong programs to continue the outstanding science, aeronautics research and education needed to win the future.”