By a 69 to 30 vote today, the U.S. Senate today approved legislation that would cut NASA's 2012 budget by $509 million, or 2.8 percent, to $17.9 billion.
The budget includes $500 million for development of commercial spacecraft and $3 billion for work on the giant Space Launch System rocket and Orion capsule for deep space exploration missions.
It also includes $500 million for the James Webb Space Telescope, targeting a 2018 launch of the hugely over-budget successor to the Hubble Space Telescope.
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida said Monday during a visit to Kennedy Space Center that it was a "minor miracle" NASA's budget hadn't been cut more, and that the agency had fared well compared to many others.
The Senate bill must now be reconciled with a U.S. House version that proposes a deeper overal cut of $1.6 billion, to $16.8 billion. It includes only $312 million for commercial space vehicles and would kill the Webb project.
The 2012 fiscal year began Oct. 1, but the government has been operationg under a temporary budget that continues 2011 spending levels through Nov. 18.
The Senate vote today covered spending plans for multiple agencies in additon to NASA.