WASHINGTON -- The House yesterday overwhelmingly endorsed President Bush's vision to send man back to the moon and eventually on to Mars as it passed a bill to set NASA policy for the next two years.
The bill passed, 383 to 15, after a collegial debate in which lawmakers emphasized their commitment not only to Bush's ambitious space exploration plans but also to traditional NASA programs such as science and aeronautics.
There is some tension between Congress and the White House over the balance between Bush's vision for space exploration and other NASA initiatives. Originally, the measure would have shifted $1.3 billion in funds from exploration to other NASA programs. But after administration objections, lawmakers added the money back to the budget for exploration during floor debate. That was done by adding to the bill's bottom line -- now at $34.7 billion -- not at the expense of science and aeronautics.
Representative Bart Gordon, Democrat of Tennessee, said Bush's ambitious moon and Mars missions ''should not be done by cannibalizing other NASA missions."
The bill is the first NASA policy measure -- its budget is funded by a separate bill -- to pass the House in five years. It advanced as the space agency tries to rebound from the Columbia disaster in February 2003 with the launch of the space shuttle Discovery on Tuesday.
A companion Senate measure approved by the Commerce, Science, and Transportation panel last month would bar NASA from retiring the shuttle before a replacement vehicle is ready.
Both House and Senate bills also endorse a servicing and repair mission to the Hubble Space Telescope.
Without such a mission, the Hubble will fail when its gyroscopes and batteries wear out in the next few years, but the agency has not announced whether to let the telescope fail or whether it will undertake a costly manned repair mission.
''Congress endorses the president's Vision for Space Exploration," said Representative Sherwood Boehlert, Republican of New York, referring to the Bush policy. ''The United States will work to return to the moon by 2020, and then will move on to other destinations."
The full Senate has yet to act on the NASA measure.
There was one lone voice against the bill. Representative Barney Frank, Democrat of Massachusetts, questioned spending billions to go to Mars when ''day after day . . . we're told we can't do enough for housing and we can't do enough for healthcare."