WASHINGTON— The U.S. Senate approved a NASA authorization bill Sept. 25 that givesCongress the authority to spend up to $20.2 billion on the U.S. space agency in2009 and places new conditions on the agency?s plan to retire the spaceshuttle.
Ifthe bill becomes law, NASA would be directed to take no steps prior to April30, 2009 that would preclude the option of flying the space shuttle beyond 2010,according to a congressional aide familiar with the legislation. Theauthorization includes $1 billion to accelerate development of the Orion CrewExploration Vehicle and its Ares 1 rocket and $100 million for the developmentand demonstration of a commercial crew vehicle.
BothBarack Obamaand John McCain,the two major U.S. presidential candidates, have called out in recent weeks forNASA to keep its options open in regards to shuttle retirement.
Whilethe bill approves a 2009 budget that is approximately $2.6 billion above theWhite House request, it provides no actual money. The House of Representativesapproved Aug. 26 a spending resolution that would keep NASA funded at its 2008level of $17.3 billion until March.
Still,the bill would require NASA to submit to Congress within 120 days of enactmenta report on extending shuttle operations beyond 2010. NASA Administrator MikeGriffin ordered such an assessment in late August but said in an interview thatthe results would not be publicly released unless otherwise ordered byCongress.
Thebill would also formalize NASA?s plan to launch two dedicated logistics flightsto the international space station and require the agency to add a flight todeliver the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer to the orbital outpost. At the sametime, the bill also outlines conditions under which NASA could cancel thatmission, such as extraordinary marginal costs.
Beyondthe shuttle language, the bill would also send NASA into the next presidentialadministration with a fresh endorsement of its plan to replace the spaceshuttle with Orion and Ares and set its sights on a 2020 return to the Moon.
Whiletime is running out for passage of the bill, a congressional aide said theHouse of Representatives was poised to take the legislation up under asuspension of rules that would allow it to pass on a simple voice vote.
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