Pluto and Pork Win in the Senate

The White House and NASA may not want to spend money on a Pluto mission, but senators do. Yesterday, when the Senate Appropriations Committee approved a spending bill, they included $105 million for the project, which the Administration has put on hold. But that amount is still some $50 million shy of what mission planners say is necessary to keep the spacecraft on track for a 2006 launch, which would give it a needed boost from Jupiter.

As a whole, NASA won $15.2 billion for its 2003 budget, a $200 million boost from the White House request. The committee approved all but $13 million of the $125 million for nuclear electric and power programs designed to speed spacecraft to their destinations, a program with strong backing from NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe.

Senators also added $7.5 million to the National Space Biomedical Research Institute in Houston, after NASA proposed chopping funding for that organization from $17 million to $10 million--a move which angered Texas lawmakers.

The NASA portion of the bill is chockablock with millions of dollars in earmarks--many not related to NASA's mission, such as $2 million for an aquarium in Maine. The House is sure to add in its own pork projects when it moves on the bill after the August recess.