The U.S House of Representatives is expected to vote Wednesday (Sept. 29) on a NASA authorization bill approved by the Senate last month. The vote is a last-ditch effort to come to an agreement on a new direction for NASA before Congress breaks to campaign for the Nov. 2 elections.

The bill (S. 3729) authorizes nearly $60 billion from 2011 through 2013. The bill approves a budget of about $19 billion for 2011. The Senate approved the bill on Aug. 5.  [NASA's New Direction: FAQ]

From the Senate's summary of the bill, here's what it would do:

Human Space Flight. The bill would:

  • Couple human space flight efforts to national and global needs and challenges;
  • Provide a sustainable exploration program to incorporate new technologies and in-space capabilities;
  • Require immediate development of a heavy-lift capability (with $1.9 billion in funding) and continued support of an exploration crew vehicle to be capable of supporting missions beyond low-Earth orbit starting in 2016; and
  • Support a sound performance and cost framework by maximizing use, where possible, of the workforce, assets, and capabilities of the Space Shuttle, Constellation, and other NASA programs.

Space Technology. The bill would:

  • Invest in exploration technologies and robotic capabilities that are tied to the overall exploration framework and support U.S. innovation and competitiveness. 

Commercial Cargo and Crew. The bill would:

  • Continue to support commercial cargo development ($1.3 billion in funding over three years) and provide additional funds to meet launch infrastructure requirements and accelerate development activity; and
  • Expand the Commercial Crew Development Program in 2011 for concept development and supporting activities, while requiring a number of studies to ensure effective oversight of the potential initiation of a commercial crew capability procurement program no earlier than 2012.

International Space Station. The bill would:

  • Extend the ISS to at least 2020 to support international and commercial collaboration and growth, research, and technology development to maximize the scientific return on the significant investment in the ISS;
  • Establish an independent non-profit to work with NASA to fully develop the ISS U.S. segment as a National Laboratory; and
  • Require an assessment of ISS requirements for parts and equipment needed to ensure its full functionality through 2020.

Shuttle Retirement and final "Launch on Need" Mission. The bill would:

Science and Aeronautics. The bill would:

  • Protect a balanced portfolio for NASA, including full funding of aeronautics and Earth and space science. 

Education. The bill would:

  • Support new education initiatives, such as teacher training programs, to reinforce NASA?s role in developing a workforce with strong science, technology, engineering, and mathematics skills; and
  • Increase the investment in NASA EPSCoR (Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research) and NASA Space Grant program.

Rescoping and Revitalizing Institutional Capabilities. The bill would:

  • Require NASA to examine alternative management models for NASA?s workforce, centers, and capabilities, while enforcing short-term prohibitions on major center displacements and reductions-in-force until the study is completed.

-- From the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.