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The National Aeronautics and Space Administration's FY2005 Budget Request: Description, Analysis, and Issues for Congress

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For FY2005, NASA requested $16.244 billion. Congress appropriated $16.200 billion, or $16.070 billion when adjusted for the 0.80% across-the-board rescission. NASA's funding is part of the VA-HUD-IA appropriations bill, which is Division I of the FY2005 Consolidated Appropriations Act (P.L. 108-447). The $16.070 billion is a 4.5% increase over the agency's FY2004 appropriation of $15.378 billion. Importantly, Congress granted NASA "unrestrained transfer authority" to shift money between its budget accounts, except for certain activities specified in the conference report (H.Rept. 108-792). NASA must notify Congress of its plans for spending the money. Until that notification is submitted, it is not possible to specify how much the agency will spend on any particular program other than the few specified in the conference report.

Separately, NASA received $126 million in a FY2005 emergency supplemental (P.L. 108-324) for hurricane relief. The Senate Commerce Committee reported a FY2005-2009 NASA authorization bill (S. 2541), but there was no floor action. No authorization bill was introduced in the House.

Debate over NASA's FY2005 budget took place as NASA responds to the announcement of new goals for the U.S. space program by President Bush in January 2004, and recovers from the February 2003 space shuttle Columbia tragedy. NASA hopes the space shuttle will return to flight in 2005, at which time assembly of the International Space Station (ISS) can resume. Returning the shuttle to flight and completing construction of ISS are the first steps in President Bush's "Vision for Space Exploration" in which NASA will focus its activities on returning humans to the Moon by 2020 and someday sending them to Mars and "worlds beyond." The Vision involves human spaceflights, as well as using robotic spacecraft as trailblazers for human missions and to investigate whether life may exist elsewhere in the universe. President Bush emphasized that achieving these goals is a "journey, not a race." White House and NASA officials stress that the Vision will take many years to accomplish, spanning multiple Congresses and Presidential administrations. Thus, the FY2005 request is the opening of a debate expected to span many budget cycles.

The Bush Administration does not plan to add much funding for NASA to fulfill the Vision. Instead, funding will be redirected from NASA activities not directly related to the Vision, and by terminating the space shuttle and the space station programs earlier than many had expected. That approach to funding the Vision may mitigate concerns about rising deficits or neglecting other national priorities in order to fund the Vision, but it subjects the plan to criticism that the total agency projected funding level is insufficient, and that the plan will preclude other important NASA activities in space science, earth science, and aeronautics.

This is the final edition of this report. An abbreviated version is available in CRS Report RS21744.