NASA's commercial crew program, and its first four astronauts, were big winners in the agency's final budget. (credit: NASA)

For the first time since 2011, Congress has fully funded NASA's commercial crew program, keeping open the possibility that the space agency will be able to end its reliance upon Russia for transportation to the International Space Station by the end of 2017.

The final fiscal year 2016 budget bill provides $1.24 billion to the agency for its commercial crew program, the exact amount requested by President Obama in his budget proposal. NASA administrator Charles Bolden has said without the full request, efforts by SpaceX and Boeing to develop their spacecraft will be further delayed. Earlier iterations of both the House and Senate budget bills had provided hundreds of millions of dollars less for commercial crew.

In another concession to the White House, the final budget bill also provides $1.92 billion for Earth Science research, just $20 million less than the President's original budget request. Although below the level Obama sought, this cut is slight compared to initial budget proposals from the House and Senate which had slashed as much as $500 million from the President's request.

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