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The National Aeronautics and Space Administration's FY2006 Budget Request: Description, Analysis, and Issues for Congress

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For FY2006, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) requested $16.456 billion. That amount was a 2.4% increase over the $16.070 billion (adjusted for the rescission) appropriated in the FY2005 Consolidated Appropriations Act (P.L. 108-447). NASA also received a $126 million supplemental for damages caused by the 2004 Florida hurricanes, yielding a total of $16.196 billion for FY2005. The FY2006 request was 1.6% above that amount. By comparison, last year the White House projected that NASA's budget would increase by 4.7%. NASA submitted a FY2006 budget amendment on July 15; total funding for the agency did not change. The Administration included $324.8 million for NASA in the October 28, 2005 reallocation package that includes funds for hurricane relief.

The House and Senate have passed the final version of the FY2006 Science, State, Justice, Commerce appropriations bill (H.R. 2862), which includes NASA. It approves $16,456.8 million ($500,000 above the request), and is subject to a 0.28% across-the-board rescission. Congress also is debating a NASA authorization bill. The House-passed version (H.R. 3070) includes $510 million more than the request; the Senate-passed version (S. 1281) approves $100 million above the request. NASA is currently funded under a Continuing Resolution (P.L. 109-77).

Congressional debate over NASA is centered on plans to implement the Vision for Space Exploration, announced by President Bush in January 2004. The Vision calls for NASA to return humans to the Moon by 2020, and someday send them to Mars. President Bush did not propose adding significant funding to NASA's five-year budget plan to implement the Vision. Instead, the agency must redirect funds from its other activities. NASA's resources are being strained by that decision, increased funding requirements for returning the space shuttle to flight status, cost growth in existing programs, and the need to fund congressionally-directed items.

NASA Administrator Dr. Michael Griffin states repeatedly that NASA cannot afford all the programs on its plate, and priorities must be set. He also is changing the emphasis on some of the Vision-related activities. For example, he is accelerating development of a Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV) to reduce an expected multi-year gap between when the space shuttle is to be terminated (2010) and the availability of the CEV. During that gap, the United States would not have its own ability to launch astronauts, and thus would be dependent on Russia for crew transportation to the International Space Station (ISS). To pay for accelerating the CEV, Dr. Griffin is reducing funding for other Vision-related activities such as developing nuclear power and propulsion systems (Project Prometheus) or performing research on ISS. NASA's FY2006 budget request also assumed a reduction of about 2,500 NASA civil servants by the beginning of FY2007.

This report will be updated. An abbreviated version is available as CRS Report RS22063.