NASA officials said on Thursday that the Obama administration will increase funding for the US space agency by five percent in 2010 and will conduct a review of its programme for manned space flight.
The $18.7-billion budget represents a $903.6-million increase over 2009 and includes money given to NASA under President Barack Obama's economic stimulus plan. The spending increase would slow in subsequent years as projected by the budget forecast.
The money will pay for the last six space shuttle flights before the fleet of reusable orbiters is retired at the end of 2010, and includes $3.5 billion for the Constellation programme to design a replacement for the ageing shuttles. The so-called Orion spacecraft begun under former president George W. Bush is to enable a return to the Moon.
That programme is to be subject to an independent review of NASA's entire manned space programme, with results expected by August. The review will study all aspects of the programme, including sending humans to the moon.
Although the budget figure for 2010 represents an increase, from 2011-13 Obama would spend about $3.5 billion less on the Constellation programme than Bush would have.
That worries some proponents of space travel, but NASA acting administrator Christopher Scolese said the space agency will continue pressing forward with the programme during the review to avoid losing time and to minimize the gap between the end of the shuttle programme and launch of the new spacecraft.
The US will rely on Russian Soyuz capsules to send astronauts to the International Space Station during the interim period.
"You can expect that a new administration wants to take a look at where we are," Scolese said.
Democratic Senator Bill Nelson, a former astronaut who chairs a subcommittee on space, has said he expects the budget figures for manned space flight to increase after the review is completed.