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Russia/U.S.: Clinton Asks Congress For Billions For NASA

Washington, 10 February 1997 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. President Bill Clinton has asked Congress for $13.5 billion for fiscal year 1998 to fund the U.S. space program, including cooperative efforts with Russia.

The budget request for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is to pay for a number of scientific projects, including a new generation of ultra-sensitive telescopes, the launch of the first piece of station hardware for the International Space Station, and joint work with Russia aboard its MIR space station.

NASA Administrator Dan Goldin told reporters that his agency considers the proposed amount "stable funding."

"We told the [Clinton] administration we needed the stability to fulfill our promises to the American people -- to give them relevant, astonishing science and aeronautics missions that would provide history-making discoveries," Goldin said. "NASA has kept that promise. The President has seen that and delivered on his commitment to the space program."

Goldin said that one of NASA's top priorities will be the International Space Station.

"This year the International Space Station will reach an historic milestone, when the first piece of station hardware is ready for launch in November," he said. "For the last three years, we have gained an unparalleled level of experience and learned much in working with other nations toward this common purpose in space."

Several American astronauts have lived and worked at the Russian space station Mir over the past few years. Their presence on the space station for extended periods of time permitted NASA doctors and scientists to thoroughly measure the physical and emotional endurance of humans who live and work in space. Scientists say this is a critical factor in determining how to build the proposed space station.

According to NASA's budget for fiscal year 1997, which began last October 1st, the organization budgeted $2.1 billion for the International Space Station and intends to operate within the same fiscal constraints for the financial year 1998.

In addition to the station, Goldin said that NASA will also accelerate a project called the Origins Program. Goldin says the project was created to answer questions about the universe -- how it was created and the formation of galaxies, stars, planets and chemical elements.

According to Goldin, some of the important components of the Origins Program are:

A new, sophisticated infrared telescope to be launched in the year 2001 that will examine and measure galaxies, stars and planetary system formations.

An accelerated pace for the Mars Surveyor Program, assuring a sample return mission by the year 2005.

Development of high-tech, low-cost spacecraft and instruments that can fly close to distant planets like Pluto and return samples from a comet, and the creation of a space interferometer to search for planets around other stars.

A major program in astrobiology which will research the processes leading to the formation and early evolution of the simplest forms of life in the universe.

Other NASA programs outlined in the proposed 1998 budget are a life and microgravity project, including aerospace medicine; an improved computer design system for spacecraft as well as ground operations; and funding for educational purposes such as sponsoring a space camp where students learn about space and science.

There is no guarantee that Congress will accept Clinton's proposed budget for NASA. The Congress, not the president, is ultimately responsible for financing the government. Some representatives in Congress are likely to challenge the budget, which could curtail some of NASA's proposed projects.