The Senate, dismissing the argument that space station Freedom had become a bottomless money pit of little scientific value, voted 63 to 34 yesterday against killing the project.
The estimated cost of the project, designed largely to test the effects of zero gravity, has mushroomed from $8 billion in 1984 to $40 billion this year. Once construction is completed by the end of the century, the space station is expected to cost $100 billion or more to operate and service in subsequent decades.
The Senate vote, coupled with House action in support of the project in late July, has assured continued funding for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's most costly project.
Funding for the space station is part of an $87.8 billion 1993 spending bill for veterans affairs, housing and independent agencies approved by the Senate 92 to 3 yesterday. The $2.1 billion earmarked for the space station is $840 million less than the Bush administration requested but $400 million more than the House approved.
Differences between the Senate and House versions will be worked out by conferees as Congress rushes to complete work on 13 separate spending bills before adjourning next month for the rest of the year.
With the nation's economy still in a rut, members of Congress are wary of eliminating programs that would create jobs, despite mounting concern about the budget deficit. NASA and space station boosters in Congress have promoted the project as a major job generator, with research and construction contracts reaching into 37 of 50 states and 151 of 435 congressional districts.
"One of the best ways to cut the deficit is to approve programs that generate jobs today and jobs tomorrow," said Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.), chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee with jurisdiction over the space station. She said the project has generated 75,000 U.S. jobs.
Sen. Dale Bumpers (D-Ark.), who led efforts to kill the space station, argued that future generations would be saddled with massive operating costs for a scientific project of dubious value.
He said the U.S. government, faced with a $333.5 billion deficit this year, would be better served by renting space on the Russian Mir space station to perform biomedical experiments, rather than insisting on development of a "gold-plated" project that is opposed by many prominent scientific groups.