Among the budget cuts that President Obama had to agree to in order to avert a government shutdown, Republicans re-gifted him one that he willingly made long ago: $3.8 billion to further NASA's space explorations.
The money will fund NASA' s Constellation Program, which was cut entirely under the president's initial fiscal year 2011 budget proposal. The pride of the Constellation Program is the Orion capsule, NASA's most innovative spacecraft, for sending men to the moon. The Orion was a priority of former President George W. Bush's, but plans for construction were halted by the current administration in 2009.
Bipartisan pressure from senators from states with a heavy NASA presence revived funding in fiscal year 2010. Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, Bill Nelson, D-Fla., and Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., championed the reauthorization of the Constellation Program on October 11, 2010, which led to the unveiling of the first Orion space capsule in March of this year.
At a hearing with NASA on April 11, Mikulski applauded NASA's work in creating jobs in the states where space capsules, such as Orion, are built.
"Every time NASA lifts off, it takes the American economy with [it]," Mikulski said. "Because [NASA] is about innovation and it is about jobs."
The government funding deal for the remainder of fiscal 2011 continues the appropriations authorized in 2010 to continue NASA'S exploration into space with the advancement of the Orion and the creation of a heavy-lift rocket.
Following Congress's passage of the spending bill, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said in a statement: "We appreciate the work of Congress to pass a 2011 spending bill. NASA now has appropriated funds to implement the 2010 Authorization Act, which gives us a clear path forward to continue America's leadership in human spaceflight, exploration, and scientific discovery."
While exploration funding is extended at 2010 levels, some NASA programs, like education outreach, have been cut. NASA is currently formulating its operating plan and has 60 days following the passage of the spending bill to submit the plan to committees.