The US Congress has approved NASA’s 2011 budget, which provides funds for the development of commercial spaceflights and an additional space shuttle flight.
The House of Representatives voted 304 to 118 to approve the budget late Wednesday in a final series of votes before Congress recesses for the November 2 mid-term elections.
The measure, a compromise between House and Senate versions of the bill which now goes to President Barack Obama for his signature, would provide 60 billion dollars for the space agency through 2013.
It funds one more launch of the shuttle after two that are currently scheduled.
It also anticipates helping the private sector develop commercial launchers to put astronauts and other payloads into orbit.
Funding also would go for starting to develop a new heavy launcher, which would be crucial for sending astronauts to an asteroid or Mars, but also the International Space Station.
Seven billion dollars have been earmarked for work aimed at making the new heavy launcher operational by 2016.
Obama’s space program calls for retiring the space shuttle after a final two flights in November and February. After that, the United States would depend on the Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft to carry US astronauts to the ISS until a successor the shuttle is developed.
The administration did not plan on beginning work on a heavy launcher before 2015.