NASA’s new administrator and Texas Republican Rep. Tom DeLay (news, bio, voting record) said Tuesday the space agency will have the necessary funding to implement President Bush’s vision to send astronauts back to the moon and to Mars.

“We have the money to do good things,” said Michael Griffin, who has visited at least seven of NASA’s centers since he was appointed in April. During a two-day visit at the home of human spaceflight, he spoke with astronauts, flight directors and other top administrators.

Griffin said the agency has received a steady flow of funding that when adjusted for inflation is comparable to the funding the agency had when it first sent astronauts to the moon during the Apollo program of the 1960s and early 1970s.

“You will find that NASA received as much in the last 16 years of its existence as in the first 16,” he said. “In my judgment, we can go to the moon. We can go to Mars. We can’t do them quite as quickly as we did during Apollo, but we can do it.”

DeLay said NASA is a priority — even in a time of war and tightening budgets.

“We will provide the funding necessary to get us where we want to go,” the House majority leader said. “And hopefully we can do it in an expedited manner.”

NASA’s shuttle fleet has been grounded since 2003 when a large chunk of foam insulation broke off Columbia’s fuel tank during launch and gashed the left wing, dooming the spacecraft and its crew during re-entry. All seven astronauts were killed.

The agency hopes to return space shuttle Discovery to orbit in mid-July. Discovery was slated to return to space in late May, but the danger of ice and sensor-and-valve problems prompted NASA to postpone the launch.

The new administrator said he foresees no reason why Johnson Space Center’s mission would be significantly altered and hopes to maintain the balance that has been reached between robotic and human space missions.

“If you ask anyone in this country, ‘Do you believe that the United States should cede the moon to say the Chinese, Europeans, Russians, whoever?’ I bet you the answer would be, ‘No,'” he said.

Griffin said he believes a majority of people “want to make sure that as humankind expands into space the United States is there in the forefront.”

“That is why this is important,” he said. “It’s about where human beings go and what they do when they get there and what that means to the future of the human race.”

By Pam Easton

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