Senate's NASA Authorization Bill Headed for House Floor

WASHINGTON ? House Science and TechnologyCommittee Chairman Bart Gordon (D-Tenn.) said Sept. 27 he anticipates the NASAauthorization bill passed by the Senate last month will come to the House floorSept. 29.

Last week Gordon unveiled a revamped versionof the three-year NASAauthorization bill his panel approved in July that recommends substantivechanges to the original measure, H.R. 5781, including more money for commercialspace taxis and robotic exploration precursor missions called for in the Senateversion of the bill.

But the move sparked criticism fromcommercial space advocates who said despite the recommended funding boost,Gordon?s compromise would place onerous restrictions on private space taxidevelopment. [NASA'sNew Direction: FAQ]

With Houselawmakers expected to hit the campaign trail this week after approving astopgap spending measure to keep the government running at current spendinglevels past Sept. 30, when the current fiscal year ends, Gordon said time isrunning out to complete work on a NASA bill.

?It has become clear that there is not timeremaining to pass a Compromise bill through the House and the Senate,? Gordonsaid in a Sept. 27 statement. ?For the sake of providing certainty, stability,and clarity to the NASA workforce and larger space community, I felt it wasbetter to consider a flawed bill than no bill at all as the new fiscal yearbegins.?

In his statement, Gordon took issue with whathe described as the Senate bill?s ?unfunded mandate? to keep NASA?s spaceshuttle orbiters flying through Sept. 30, 2011 at a cost of $500 million ormore without identifying a source of funds, ?all but ensuring that otherimportant NASA programs will be cannibalized.?

Referring to language in the Senate bill thatseeks to speed development of a space shuttle-derived heavy-liftlaunch vehicle beginning in 2011, Gordon said he is concerned that the bill(S. 3729) is overly prescriptive.

?The end result is the Senate trying todesign a rocket for NASA, while being silent on the safety of the vehicle,? hesaid. ?The compromise language lets NASA determine the best approach in thedesign of the follow-on human spaceflight and exploration program.?

Gordon said his bill assures access to the InternationalSpace Station and minimizes the anticipated gap in human spaceflighttransportation following the space shuttle?s retirement next year, leaving NASAreliant on commercialspace providers to develop a follow-on capability for ferrying astronautsto and from the orbiting outpost.

?The Senate bill does not provide a timetablefor a government backup capability, which could make NASA?s access to spacecompletely dependent on commercial providers,? he states. ?I am hopeful thecommercial providers will be successful, but, whereas they have missedcontractual cargo milestones thus far, I am wary of being completely dependenton them, because if they fail, we will be dependent on the Russians for longerthan absolutely necessary.?

With action on a NASA spending bill notexpected before the November elections, Gordon said he would seek to influencethe congressional appropriations process and ?advocate to the Appropriators forthe provisions in the Compromise language.?

Congressional aides said the NASAAuthorization Act of 2010 (S. 3729) is expected to come to the House floorunder a suspension of the rules, which would limit debate on the measure andrequire a two-thirds majority of members present and voting in order to pass.Despite Gordon?s reluctant support for the measure, opposition to S. 3729 isexpected, particularly among House Republicans concerned with the three-yearauthorization?s nearly $60 billion price-tag.

This article was provided by Space News, dedicated tocovering all aspects of the space industry.

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SpaceNews Staff Writer

Amy Klamper is a space reporter and former staff writer for the space industry news publication SpaceNews. From 2004 to 2010, Amy covered U.S. space policy, NASA and space industry professionals for SpaceNews. Her stories included profiles on major players in the space industry, space policy work in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, as well as national policy set by the White House.