House Approves Bill for Extra Space Shuttle Flight
NASA's space shuttle Discovery swoops down to a smooth landing at the Shuttle Landing Facility of NASA's Kennedy Space Center on June 14, 2008 to conclude the STS-124 mission.
Credit: NASA/Mike Gayle

WASHINGTON — Brushing aside White House objections, the U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved a one-year NASA authorization bill that would require the space agency to conduct an extra space shuttle mission to deliver the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS) to the International Space station.

The White House says that requiring NASA to fly the AMS could require the agency to operate the space shuttle beyond 2010 and further delay the fielding of its successor, the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle and Ares I rocket.

But the House kept the AMS provision intact and relaxed the space shuttle's 2010 retirement date when it voted Thursday to approve the NASA Authorization Act of 2008 (H.R. 6063) by a vote of 409 to 15. A similar provision was included in a recent draft of a Senate version of the NASA authorization bill that has yet to be introduced there.

In addition to directing NASA to fly AMS, the bill also endorses the basic outlines of President George W. Bush's 2004 call for the United States to complete the space station, retire the space shuttle and field a new system capable of carrying astronauts to the Moon, Mars and points beyond.

Rep. Bart Gordon (D-Tenn.), chairman of the House Science and Technology Subcommittee, hailed passage of the bill as a bipartisan endorsement of a robust U.S. space program.

"The bipartisan consensus we have reached on H.R. 6063 signals that Congress believes a balanced NASA program of science, aeronautics, and human spaceflight and exploration is important and worthy of the nation's support," Gordon said in a statement. "Yet, I want to emphasize that H.R. 6063 takes a fiscally-responsible approach to providing that support."

Rep. Ralph Hall (R-Texas), the House Science and Technology Committee's ranking Republican, said H.R. 6063 is meant to "remove any doubt the next Administration may have about Congress' commitment to NASA's programs and policies."

H.R. 6063 authorizes a $20.21 billion budget for NASA for 2009 - about $2.5 billion more than the White House requested or that congressional appropriators appear inclined to approve as part of a broader Commerce, Justice, Science (CJS) spending bill.

The CJS spending bills moving through the House and Senate both provide only $17.8 billion for NASA for 2009.

The Senate Appropriations Committee is due to vote on its version of the CJS spending bill June 19.

The House Appropriations Committee had been scheduled to vote on its CJS bill at the same time, but announced Thursday the markup had been postponed. No new date was announced.