On Thursday, a vital Senate committee voted to reject a proposal, adding $300 million to the program that will replace the space shuttle, despite insistence from NASA it needs the funding to stop U.S. reliance on Russia for rides to the ISS.
The Senate Appropriations Committee voted for a 16-14 against a proposed amendment by Barbara Mikulski, a Maryland Democrat, to increase funding for the Commercial Crew program from $900 million to $1.2 billion for the fiscal year 2016.
The proposal was part of a $3 billion increase Mikulski attempted to add to the $51 billion bill in order to fund the Commerce and Justice departments and also the science agencies for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1. Republican senators vetoed the package, stating a budget that spells the availability of money to spend for all agencies.
Alabama GOP Sen. Richard Shelby declared before the vote, “Given the fiscal boundaries that have been set, I believe this bill does a good job of balancing the priorities of our committee members and the nation.” Shelby chairs the Appropriations subcommittee which on Wednesday voted to approve $900 million Commercial Crew program.
Thursday’s outcome makes it certain NASA won’t be meeting its 2017 target deadline for the launch of the first private rockets to astronauts from the U.S soil to the space station.
The House approved last week, a fiscal 2016 budget for NASA providing $1 billion for the Commercial Crew program. It’s highly improbable the two chambers will settle on a final figure to match NASA’s $1.24 billion requests, which they say is necessary in meeting the 2017 target launch.
NASA will instead continue to pay Moscow about $75 million per seat to convey astronauts to the orbiting space lab on board Soyuz rockets, while continuing to work with private aerospace firms like Boeing and SpaceX for development of a space shuttle replacement mothballed in 2011.
Lest both the Senate and the House change course and agree to fund fully the Commercial Crew, astronauts won’t be launching from U.S. soil until 2018.