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As Atlantis Flies, NASA Future Unclear

As Atlantis Flies, NASA Future Unclear

At 11:29 July 8, 2011, space shuttle

left its launch pad at the Kennedy Space Center for a mission to the International Space Station (ISS), bringing with it the collective history of 30 years and more than 350 men and women. The final

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(link opens PDF) will see Atlantis' four-person crew testing technology to refuel satellites in orbit, as well as bringing supplies and spare parts to the ISS. The web abounds with photos, farewells, and graphics about the shuttle program, but

The New York Times

' info-packed

of the shuttle's history, complete with photos from each of the program's 135 missions, is particularly cool. NASA's web site is overrun with shuttle news; check

for an exhaustive overview of the program and its missions and keep an eye on

and

for updates. You can use Google Earth to

the location of Atlantis in real-time, and follow the "

" list on Twitter for posts from, um, astronauts in space now. But even as the science community bids farewell to one of its greatest and longest-running successes, it's mobilizing to defend and define its future. Earlier this week, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies

for fiscal year 2012 that would cut funding to NASA by nearly $2 billion from fiscal year 2011, including stopping development of the James Webb Space Telescope, the Hubble Space Telescope's successor. The subcommittee cites "poor management" as its reasoning, in addition to the project being "billions of dollars over budget." State Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), a longtime supporter of Hubble and the nation's space program, released a

yesterday vowing to stop the bill. She called the move "shortsighted and misguided," adding, "The Webb Telescope will lead to the kind of innovation and discovery that have made America great. It will inspire America's next generation of scientists and innovators that will have the new ideas that lead to the new jobs in our new economy." Planning for the Webb began in the mid-1990s, and construction began in 2004. A November 2010 independent review, convened at Mikulski's request,

that the Webb would come in at least $1.4 billion over budget and one year behind schedule. NASA has yet to release a statement on the proposed bill, but deputy administrator Lori Garver

that NASA and the White House would work with Congress on a solution that "would enable the agency to fulfill its science and exploration objectives," and added that "'the process is not over.'"

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