The International Space Station (ISS) program began in 1993, with Russia joining the United States, Europe, Japan, and Canada. Crews have occupied ISS on a 4-6 month rotating basis since November 2000.
The U.S. Space Shuttle, which first flew in April 1981, has been the major vehicle taking crews and cargo back and forth to ISS, but the shuttle system has encountered difficulties since the Columbia disaster in 2003. Russian Soyuz spacecraft are also used to take crews to and from ISS, and Russian Progress spacecraft deliver cargo, but cannot return anything to Earth, since they are not designed to survive reentry into the Earth’s atmosphere. A Soyuz is always attached to the station as a lifeboat in case of an emergency. President Bush, prompted in part by the Columbia tragedy, made a major space policy address on January 14, 2004, directing NASA to focus its activities on returning humans to the Moon and someday sending them to Mars. Included in this “Vision for Space Exploration” is a plan to retire the space shuttle in 2010. The President said the United States would fulfill its commitments to its space station partners, and the shuttle Discovery made the first post-Columbia flight to the ISS in July 2006. Shuttle flights have continued and completion of the space station is scheduled before the shuttle is retired in 2010. Meanwhile NASA has begun development of a new crew launch vehicle, named Ares, and a crew exploration vehicle, named Orion. NASA programs were funded for FY2008 in Division B of the Consolidated Appropriations Act (P.L. 110-161). The Space Operations program, which includes the space shuttle and the ISS, was funded at $6.734 billion. For FY2009 NASA requested $5.775 billion for these programs, but in the process revised its budgeting to move its overhead costs to a new account called Cross- Agency Support. Under the new system, the FY2008 Space Operations program would have received $5.526 billion, about $250 million less than the FY2009 request. NASA is currently operating under a continuing resolution (Division A of P.L. 110-329), which funded most civilian activities through March 6, 2009. Under the continuing resolution, Space Operations are funded at the $5.526 billion rate appropriated for FY2008. An FY2009 NASA authorization bill (H.R. 6063) was introduced May 15, 2008. Among the provisions in the one-year authorization bill was a “Sense of the Congress” urging cooperation in the Moon/Mars activities with other nations pursuing human space flight. It also requires that NASA “terminate or suspend any activity of the Agency that, if continued between the date of enactment of this Act and April 30, 2009, would preclude the continued safe and effective flight of the Space Shuttle after fiscal year 2010 if the President inaugurated on January 20, 2009, were to make a determination to delay the Space Shuttle’s scheduled retirement.” Congress passed the bill September 27, and it was signed by the President October 15 (P.L. 110-422).