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The 109th Congress is addressing a broad range of civilian, military, and commercial space issues.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) conducts the most visible space activities. For FY2006, NASA received $16.623 billion when adjusted for two rescissions and an augmentation for hurricane recovery. The FY2007 request is $16.792 billion.
The future of the U.S. human space flight program is dominating debate about NASA. The space shuttle returned to flight in July 2005 after a two and one-half year hiatus following the 2003 Columbia tragedy, but the next launch has been indefinitely postponed because of a foam-shedding event during that launch similar to what led to the loss of Columbia. Pursuant to the “Vision for Space Exploration” announced by President Bush in January 2004, the shuttle program is to be terminated in 2010. The Vision directs NASA to focus its activities on returning humans to the Moon by 2020 and eventually sending them to Mars. The Vision has broad implications for the agency, especially since most of the money to implement it is expected to come from other NASA activities. Congress is debating the many issues raised by the Vision, including what the balance should be among NASA’s various space and aeronautics activities, and whether the United States should end the shuttle program before a replacement is available.
The Department of Defense (DOD) has a less visible but equally substantial space program. Tracking the DOD space budget is extremely difficult since space is not identified as a separate line item in the budget. DOD sometimes releases only partial information (omitting funding for classified programs) or will suddenly release without explanation new figures for prior years that are quite different from what was previously reported. Figures provided to CRS show a total (classified and unclassified) space budget of $19.4 billion for FY2003, $20 billion for FY2004, $19.8 billion for FY2005, and a request of $22.5 billion for FY2006. The final figure for FY2006 and the FY2007 requests are not yet available. How to manage DOD space programs to avoid the cost growth and schedule delays that have characterized several recent projects is a key issue facing DOD.
The appropriate role of the government in facilitating commercial space businesses is an ongoing debate. For many years, the focus has been on space launch services, but commercial remote sensing satellites also pose complex questions. President Bush signed a new commercial remote sensing policy in 2003, and a new space launch policy in 2004, that try to strike a balance between facilitating commercial activities while ensuring the U.S. government has needed data and services.
International cooperation and competition in space are affected by the world economic situation and the post-Cold War political climate. President Clinton’s 1993 decision to merge NASA’s space station program with Russia’s is symbolic of the dramatic changes, and the risks.