Panel approves compromise plan to save space jobs and add shuttle mission

By Reuters
Friday, July 16, 2010

A key Senate committee unanimously passed a plan Thursday to postpone retirement of the space shuttle as part of a job-saving compromise to the Obama administration's wish to end NASA's program to return astronauts to the moon.

The NASA plan approved by the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee supports President Obama's call to end the moon-bound Constellation program.

But the three-year NASA spending plan passed by the committee adds a $1 billion shuttle mission to the international space station for next summer or fall and leaves contracts, equipment and personnel in place in case other flights are needed.

The administration broadly supported the committee plan.

"This is a milestone in the realignment of the space program for the 21st century," said Lori Garver, NASA's deputy administrator. "It preserves the most important parts of the president's plan."

The legislation, which must be approved by the full Senate, was also praised by the politicians in states that were facing the loss of jobs because of the proposed shift in emphasis.

"I am extremely pleased that we have been able to work out a bipartisan compromise on the NASA authorization legislation," said Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Tex.), a vocal opponent of the Obama plan. "It has been a long and very hard road to get here."

The coming retirement of the space shuttle is imperiling thousands of jobs at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida as well as jobs in Texas, Alabama and Utah.

The plan leaves intact the White House's $19 billion funding request for NASA for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1, an increase over the current year. Rather than focusing on the moon, the Senate committee bill, like the administration plan, calls for a program to be flexible enough to reach different destinations.

Washington Post staff writer Marc Kaufman contributed to this report.

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