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More Funds for NASA, NSF

WASHINGTON, D.C.--Research did well on Capitol Hill last night, as a joint House-Senate committee put the finishing touches to an appropriations bill that will provide funds for NASA and the National Science Foundation (NSF) in 1998. Both agencies won budget increases, although the good news was tempered by some disappointments. Cash-strapped NASA, for example, faces another delay in the space station. And NSF didn't get its wish to start construction of a polar cap observatory near the magnetic North Pole. The bill must still be approved by the House and Senate and signed by the president.

NSF's research account will increase by $113 million to $2.55 billion, about a 5% gain over last year. But the agency must spend $40 million of that increase on a plant genome initiative, a project promoted by agricultural lobbyists and championed by Senator Kit Bond (R-MO) that was not part of NSF's request (Science, 27 June, p. 1960). The agency's education programs will receive $633 million, a 2% rise that doubles the request.

The $25 million polar cap observatory to study solar-upper atmosphere interactions has got caught in a tug-of-war over where it should be located. The proposed site is near magnetic North Pole in northwest Canada, but Senator Ted Stevens (R-AL) wants it built at an Alaskan defense lab--which scientists say would greatly reduce its value. NSF's plans to replace its aging South Pole station fared better: The bill includes $70 million to begin construction of a new facility, about half the estimated total cost. And legislators added $4 million to complete the twin Gemini telescopes and maintained initial funding for the $200 million millimeter array.

The space agency received $13.65 billion, $100 million above the request and close to the 1997 level. But that windfall won't go far, as the agency failed to win approval to move money from other accounts into the station budget to meet cost overruns. Lawmakers like Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) worried that other programs--particularly the space shuttle and science efforts--would suffer as a result, so the bill severely restricts the agency's flexibility. "We're in a bad situation," says one NASA manager. "This would force a slip in the station's schedule."