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NASA Bill Strips Gore Project Funds

May 20, 1999

WASHINGTON (AP) _ It was political ``Star Wars″ in the House on Wednesday as Republicans prevailed during debate on a $42 billion NASA bill, stripping an Internet earth-viewing project initiated by Vice President Al Gore.

The bill passed 259-168, with most Democrats opposing it.

Democrats said the eliminating $32 million to continue Gore’s Triana satellite project was an attempt to embarrass the party’s 2000 presidential front-runner. Republicans said the program was unnecessary.

White House aides said NASA Administrator Daniel Goldin might recommend a presidential veto of the bill _ which also sets how much is to be spent over the next three years on the space station and the space shuttle _ if the Triana program is not revived.

Gore last year initiated the idea of putting a satellite in orbit that would provide 24-hour views of the earth for TV viewers and Internet users. NASA, agreeing the project had scientific and educational value, plans to launch the Triana spacecraft in December next year.

But the House Science Committee, on a party-line 21-18 vote, decided to close down the program.

Rep. David Weldon, R-Fla., who initiated the amendment, said he considered it an ``insult″ that NASA was laying off 600 workers at Kennedy Space Center at the same time it was ``finding tens of millions of dollars to fulfill a vision for the vice president.″

Republicans argued that people wanting a view of the earth can already turn to the Weather Channel or NASA’s TV channel. Triana supporters say it will transmit an image twice as clear as new high-resolution television sets and will be unique in presenting a full-earth view.

The chairman of the House Science Committee, Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., said it was ``more important to spend $32 million on medical research than on funding the vice president’s late-night inspiration for a multimillion dollar screen-saver called Triana.″

Republicans are ``Luddites″ who are politicizing science, said Gore spokesman Chris Lehane, referring to the 19th century workers who smashed newfangled machines in a vain effort to hold onto their jobs.

``We are going to need a safety lock on the GOP to help protect the American people from such blatant partisanship,″ Lehane said.

Rep. Bart Gordon, D-Tenn., ranking Democrat on the space subcommittee, said the move was ``totally parochial, totally partisan.″ He said NASA has already spent $40 million on the $75 million project and it would cost more to cancel it than to save it.

``We hope they will change their mind,″ said Dave Steitz, spokesman for NASA. ``We would like them to base their decision on the science of the mission.″

Several Democrats said they would reluctantly support the bill, but hoped the Senate would restore the money for the project, which is named for the sailor who first spotted the New World on the journey with Christopher Columbus.

The three-year bill also sets U.S. spending over the next three years at $7 billion for the international space station, $7.8 billion for space shuttle operations and $4.2 billion for earth science programs.

The House defeated, 313-117, an amendment that would have ended Russian participation in the space station. Under the proposal by Rep. Tim Roemer, D-Ind., Russia could contract for future space station work but would no longer be a partner in the 16-nation project.

The Russians repeatedly have been behind schedule in completing their work, driving up U.S. costs by as much as $5 billion. Sensenbrenner said the Russians were ``a miserable failure in being a partner.″

But others warned the amendment seriously could undermine fragile U.S.-Russian relations and kill a project that is finally making headway. The first component of the station, the U.S.-funded, Russian-built Zarya module, was launched last November. NASA followed in December with its Unity module.

Also, the House by voice accepted an amendment by Rep. John Sweeney, R-N.Y., requiring NASA to certify within 15 days that any proposed agreement with China would not improve the missile or space launch capabilities of China.

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