Bush Proposes Budget Increase for Shuttle Funds

(White House-AP) -- President Bush's new budget proposes a nearly 23 percent increase in funding for the space shuttle. But officials caution the budget went to the printer before Saturday's "Columbia" disaster -- and does not necessarily mean under-funding played a role in the shuttle's loss.

Under the blueprint for fiscal 2004, NASA's overall budget is slated to go up three percent to 15-and-a-half  billion dollars. Of that, just under four  billion would be for shuttle operations.

Last year, Bush cut the shuttle budget by just under two percent. White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer says President Bush remains committed to funding the manned space program, but he says it is too soon to tell what the budgetary fallout of the Columbia tragedy will be -- or even if it'll be necessary to build a replacement orbiter.