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NASA Seeks More Money For Space Technology

Space agency's proposed $17.7 billion budget for 2013 includes $699 million for space technology, an increase of 18%.

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NASA has asked for more money for its Space Technology Program in fiscal 2013, bolstering efforts to develop technology that can have commercial benefits as well as help the agency meet its goals for future space exploration.

NASA also put an emphasis on getting its commercial spaceflight program off the ground, and to complete the long-overdue successor to the Hubble Telescope, according to its $17.7 billion proposed budget for 2013, which is roughly the same request as the agency made last year.

NASA's budget request for space technology for 2013 is $699 million, a $124 million--or roughly 18%--increase over last year.

The agency has a long to-do list of what it will use the money for, including developing new technology in the areas of in-space propulsion, robotics, space power systems, deep-space communications, cryogenic fluid handling, and entry, descent, and landing. The technology will be used for its plans to expand its manned and unmanned missions beyond low earth orbit, the agency said in documents accompanying its budget request.

[ Read how NASA helps predict hurricanes. See NASA Enhances Solar Storm Forecasting. ]

NASA--which has a long history of developing technology for use by the general public--also aims to prioritize its efforts to transfer and commercialize technology developed inside of the agency so "the full economic value and societal benefit of these innovations is realized," the agency said.

The proposed budget also asks for an increase in funds--from $519 million to $628 million--to finish the James Webb Space Telescope, the successor to Hubble that's already exceeded its original budget. NASA hopes to launch the telescope in 2018.

Other priorities with 2013 budget funds are to get the delayed commercial spaceflight program--which will bring crew back and forth to the International Space Station--off the ground. NASA originally was shooting for 2015 for the first flight but has pushed that back to 2017.

The agency is requesting $830 million for the program, more than double the $406 in funding it received last year. However, NASA requested about the same amount last year but Congress shaved off half of it in budget negotiations.

Increased funding doesn't come without a cost, and other NASA projects will take a hit. For instance, its planetary science funding, which supports its Mars missions, will be cut 21% in the proposed budget, from $1.5 billion in spending last year to $1.19 billion.

The Mars exploration program itself--which includes technology assets like the Mars Rover--will take a 38.5% cut, dropping from $587 million last year to $360.8 million in the proposed budget.

And of course the space shuttle program, which flew its last mission last year, will take the biggest hit of all. NASA has requested a mere $70.6 million for the program, versus spending $556.2 million last year.

NASA administrator Charles Bolden remained his typically optimistic self about his agency's budget, despite the tough decisions NASA had to make about where to spend its money in 2013 and continued uncertainty about its ability to meet its goals, particularly for space technology.

"Despite a constrained fiscal environment, this budget continues to aggressively implement the space exploration program agreed to by the President and a bipartisan majority in Congress...laying the foundation for remarkable discoveries here on Earth and in deep space," he said in opening remarks published with budget documents.

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