NASA receives full funding for moon-Mars effort

Generous 2006 appropriation comes with warning to shape up financial management.

Congress on Wednesday approved a $16.5 billion budget for NASA, fully funding the administration's moon-Mars exploration initiative for a second consecutive year.

The Senate passed the 2006 spending bill by vote of 94-5 and sent it to President Bush for his signature.

NASA Administrator Michael Griffin thanked lawmakers for their endorsement, saying in a statement, "We will work to ensure the president's exploration priorities are maintained as we move forward in setting program and investment priorities."

The space agency's appropriation for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1 amounts to 0.7 percent of the federal budget and represents a $260 million increase over 2005 funding.

The spending bill (H.R. 2862) includes $3.1 billion for NASA to continue developing the rockets and spacecraft that will take astronauts back to the moon late in the next decade, $912 million to restore the agency's aeronautics research program, and $6.7 billion for operations involving the space shuttle and International Space Station.

The bill also includes $271 million to plan a space shuttle mission to service the celebrated Hubble Space Telescope. The Hubble mission is awaiting Griffin's approval, pending a successful outcome in spring 2006 of the second of two space shuttle "return to flight" missions.

Although appropriators smiled on NASA's budget request, they issued stern warnings about financial affairs at the space agency.

On Nov. 3, Griffin reported to the House Science Committee that NASA needs $3 billion to $5 billion more than is currently budgeted to fund the space shuttle through its anticipated retirement in 2010. But committee chairman Rep. Sherwood Boehlert, R-N.Y., suggested NASA may be trying to do more at once than its budget can support.

A week earlier, NASA Chief Financial Officer Gwendolyn Sykes said she would not certify the agency's financial statements if she were bound by the 2002 Sarbanes-Oxley Act, which penalizes private sector officials for financial misstatements.

Sykes' comment came during a joint hearing conducted by the House Science Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics and the House Government Reform Subcommittee on Government Management, Finance and Accountability.

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