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Space programs out, cemeteries in as war-time US budget ax falls
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  • WASHINGTON (AFP) Jul 21, 2004
    Wary of ballooning deficits, US lawmakers began swinging their budget ax Tuesday, hacking at futuristic space exploration projects but giving a healthy increase to national cemeteries where Iraq war dead are being buried.

    "The budget crunch that we all knew was coming has finally arrived," declared Republican Representative Bill Young, chairman of the Appropriations Committee at the House of Representatives, after one of its panels reviewed next year's science, environmental and veterans' programs.

    Despite President George W. Bush's calls for further exploration of the space frontier, the lawmakers put on the chopping block the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

    The president's 2005 request for the space agency was cut by 1.1 billion dollars to a total 15.1 billion, which is more than a quarter-billion less than NASA's budget for the current fiscal year.

    The main victims include Project Prometheus that calls for creating a nuclear-powered propulsion system that would theoretically make it possible for humans to reach Mars in as little as two months as opposed to six months that would be necessary with traditional chemical boosters. It lost 230 million dollars.

    The budget for the Crew Exploration Vehicle, the next-generation ship for human spaceflight, was tightened by 438 million, while the International Space Station took a 120-million-dollar hit.

    Shuttle operations and the widely publicized Mars exploration programs were left untouched.

    As much as 278 million were withheld from the National Science Foundation's budget request, while the Environmental Protection Agency was funded 613 million dollars below its current budget.

    In a sign of times, the National Cemetery Administration that runs government-owned burial places and where many soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan are being laid to rest received a six-million-dollar boost, bringing its 2005 budget to 149 million dollars.

    Fueled by the Iraq war and a recent slowdown in the US economy, the US budget deficit is estimated to reach about 400 billion dollars this year.

    The Congressional Budget Office has projected the war in Iraq will cost the US government between 55 billion and 60 billion dollars in new funding in fiscal year 2005, if the intensity of military operations remains at its current level.

    The US budget process is still in its early stages and could undergo further review.

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