Saturday, May 2, 2015

House Science, Space, and Technology Committee Approves Bill to ‘Restore Balance’ to NASA

Credit: NASA

The House Science, Space, and Technology Committee on Thursday approved a two-year NASA Authorization bill that restores balance to NASA’s budget and supports its role as the only government agency responsible for space exploration. The NASA Authorization Act for 2016 and 2017 is a budget-neutral bill that was introduced earlier this week by Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) alongside lead sponsor Congressman Steven Palazzo (R-Miss.) and fifteen other cosponsors. The bill’s policy provisions largely mirror that of the House-passed NASA Authorization Act of 2015, a one-year bill that passed with unanimous bipartisan support in February 2015.

“Today’s bill is a step in the right direction to ensure that NASA will continue to innovate and inspire,” stated Chairman Lamar Smith. “The Authorization levels for FY16 and FY17 included in this bill provide NASA with the resources necessary to remain a leader in space exploration in a time of tight budget realities. For more than 50 years, the U.S. has led the world in space exploration. We must restore balance to NASA’s budget if we want to ensure the U.S. continues to lead in space for the next 50 years. And we must continue to invest in NASA as the only government agency responsible for space exploration.”

In addition to Chairman Smith, fifteen other members cosponsored Rep. Palazzo’s bill: Representatives John Culberson (R-Texas), Frank Lucas (R-Okla.), Jim Bridenstine (R-Okla.), Randy Weber (R-Texas), Barbara Comstock (R-Va.), Barry Loudermik (R-Ga.), Mo Brooks (R-Ala.), Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), Michael McCaul (R-Texas), Randy Hultgren (R-Ill.), Bill Posey (R-Fla.), Bill Johnson (R-Ohio), John Moolenaar (R-Mich.), Steve Knight (R-Calif.), and Brian Babin (R-Texas).

Democrats have opposed the move, maintaining that studying the Earth is a part of NASA’s mission. Additionally, they note that while other agencies may be tasked with monitoring the oceans, soil and weather, they don’t have the same technological capabilities as NASA. 

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden focused on Earth science in a statement after the vote.

"The NASA authorization bill making its way through the House of Representatives guts our Earth science program and threatens to set back generations worth of progress in better understanding our changing climate, and our ability to prepare for and respond to earthquakes, droughts, and storm events," Bolden said.

“NASA leads the world in the exploration of and study of planets, and none is more important than the one on which we live. In addition, the bill underfunds the critical space technologies that the nation will need to lead in space, including on our journey to Mars," he added.

“The bill balances exploration and science, and restores true balance to the science division,” stated the bill’s lead sponsor, Congressman Steven Palazzo. “Unlike the president’s budget request, it provides for increased funding for NASA while ensuring those increases are paid for. Authorizing funding above what can be appropriated is a damaging act. It sets NASA up for failure by presenting the space agency with unfunded mandates. Many NASA advisory groups and blue ribbon commissions have noted that NASA is being asked to do too much with too little. Authorizing Committees should not contribute to this problem.”

The Committee bill focuses NASA’s efforts to develop a capability to access the International Space Station so that we can once again launch American astronauts on American rockets from American soil. It also increases support for the Space Launch System and the Orion Crew Vehicle – systems being developed to take astronauts to deep-space destinations like Mars – in an attempt to keep the programs on schedule for a 2017 launch date. The Obama administration has consistently cut funding for these human space exploration programs, while increasing funding for the Earth Science Division by more than 63 percent. The bill provides a total authorization level that matches NASA’s budget request, providing that current restraints within the Budget Control Act are satisfied.

"This NASA authorization bill seeks to maintain America's leadership in space by robustly funding a well-balanced mix of programs in areas such as space exploration, science, and aeronautics,” stated Congressman Mo Brooks, who serves as vice chair of the Subcommittee on Space. “It fully funds the Space Launch System, which will be America’s means for future exploration beyond Low Earth Orbit. This budget-neutral bill is an investment in our future, providing NASA with the funding authorization and policy direction it needs to maintain our preeminence in space and aeronautics."

The bill also supports a healthy science directorate that reflects the input from the scientific community and an aeronautics research directorate that contributes to our nation’s aerospace economy.

The Coalition for Space Exploration, which is comprised of aerospace industry companies, said the bill “reaffirms longstanding congressional support for NASA’s Exploration Program, including the world’s only super heavy exploration rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS), and deep space crew vehicle, Orion. Using these exceptional and unparalleled exploration systems, NASA will soon return American astronauts to cis-lunar space for the first time in more than 40 years and, eventually, take us to Mars. With suppliers across 48 states providing components for SLS and Orion, communities across the nation are all a part of returning American astronauts to deep space.”

The Commercial Spaceflight Federation (CSF), which represents more than 50 commercial space companies across the United States, also expressed its strong support for the bill, citing “the Committee’s increased support for the Commercial Crew Program” and the bill’s ability to “restore America’s capability to launch American astronauts on American rockets from American soil by 2017 and end our sole reliance on Russia.”

In a letter, Planetary Society Director of Advocacy Casey Dreier praised the Committee’s “scientifically ambitious, affordable plan of solar system exploration” as well as the bill’s “clear directives and support for [NASA’s] future exploration.” The Planetary Society, led by CEO Bill Nye, is considered one of the largest and most influential public space organizations in the world.

The Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership/Citizens for Spaceflight Exploration-Texas called the Committee’s bill a “strong endorsement of America’s space exploration program” because of its support of the “nation’s global national security interests, technological innovation and competitiveness, high-tech jobs and future workforce opportunities, STEM education and quality of life improvements.”

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