WASHINGTON – The House on Friday overwhelmingly endorsed President Bush’s plans to go to the moon and Mars but put its own imprint on the future of NASA, insisting the space agency also concentrate on research programs and repairing the Hubble telescope.

The Hubble, along with science programs and aeronautics research, are popular in Congress partly because the contracts generate thousands of jobs, injecting millions into the economies of many lawmakers’ districts.

Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Fla., said in Florida alone 33,000 people work in NASA-related jobs, earning a total of $1.6 billion.

“The space program not only helps satisfy our curiosity, it yields new products and services in a changing world,” Stearns said. “Pacemakers, scratch-resistant lenses … insulin pumps for diabetics are only a few of the byproducts of our space program.”

The first blueprint for NASA’s future in five years passed 383-15.

Congress has pushed hard for a mission to repair the Hubble space telescope, which has been popular with lawmakers and the public for the pictures it has beamed back to Earth. The White House had resisted the repair mission, which would cost another $270 million.

Earlier this week, the White House said it was concerned that the House had added $500 million to next year’s NASA budget and proposed $760 million extra for the following year. The total House bill approved Friday sets aside $33.43 billion for NASA over two years. The Senate still has to vote on the measure.

Lawmakers also have pushed for more money for NASA programs beyond human space exploration, such as aeronautics research on things such as quieter engines, and science projects that lead to medical advances.

The White House “wanted us to just rubber stamp what they sent up,” said Rep. Sherwood Boehlert, R-N.Y., chairman of the House Science Committee. “(But) we don’t want NASA to become a single-mission agency. We do not want to sacrifice programs in these other areas.”

NASA is at a crossroads as it begins filling in the details of going to the moon and Mars and Tuesday launches the first space shuttle since the 2003 Columbia disaster.

The level of spending on NASA will continue to be an issue as Bush’s moon and Mars exploration plan competes with other programs.

Rep. Patrick Kennedy, D-R.I., whose uncle, President John F. Kennedy, touched off the race to the moon, said the focus on Mars may hurt NASA’s science missions.

“The president seemed to put this new direction out like it was a press release and did not bring in different points of view,” Kennedy said.

And Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., said the Mars effort was “simply a waste of money” and would cost billions while short changing housing, health care and transportation programs.

But Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, D-Calif., said NASA must make difficult decisions and “bold budget cuts.”

“NASA can’t be an agency that does everything for everyone or it will not be able to do anything for anyone,” Rohrabacher said.

Despite broad support, the bill left unsettled when to retire the space shuttle and whether the United States can contract with Russia for transportation to the International Space Station.

Senators of both parties and House Democrats want to keep the shuttle flying until its replacement is ready. The House bill is silent on the matter but Boehlert said the shuttle must be retired in 2010 so the money can be spent on the crew exploration vehicle (CEV) that will replace it.

“The shuttle is costing a hell of a lot of money and we’ve got to get on to CEV,” he said.

Rep. Bart Gordon, D-Tenn., said he opposes the deadline for retiring the shuttle because NASA might need it to finish assembling the space station. Without a U.S. vehicle, travel back and forth would likely be purchased from Russia. “There’s a concern about being held hostage to the Russians. For national security sake, it’s important we preserve our options,” he said.

The House bill ducked the issue of how to get around the current law that likely would bar the United States from buying that transportation from Russia in the future because of the help Russia gave Iran with its nuclear program. That “sticky wicket,” as Boehlert called it, will be settled this fall when the House and Senate work out a compromise version of the bill.


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