Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Bill Introduced to Redirect NASA to Moon, Establish Sustained Presence

An artist’s rendering of a space station in cislunar space utilizing a combination of private and government vehicles. Image Credit: Nathan Koga / SpaceFlight Insider

A bill that would direct NASA to return to the Moon and establish a sustained presence was referred to the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space, and Technology on Feb. 3, 2017. Sponsored by Rep. Bill Posey, R-Fla., HR 870 would direct NASA to plan to return to the Moon and develop a sustained presence on the Moon. It has two co-sponsors, Rep. Sheila Jackson, D-Texas, and Rep. Brian Babin, R-Texas.

Under the current directive, NASA is working toward sending astronauts to cislunar space by the mid-2020s to visit a yet-to-be redirected small asteroid boulder, and to Mars orbit by the mid-2030s.

SpaceFlight Insider reached out to NASA for comment on the new legislation.

“It would be inappropriate for NASA to discuss any pending legislation until it passes both houses and is signed by the President,” said Bob Jacobs, NASA’s deputy associate administrator for communications.

Several bills over the years have been proposed to direct NASA to send astronauts to Earth’s nearest neighbor, one of which was proposed only last Spring. All of them have gone nowhere. It is possible HR 870 is destined for the same place as the other “Moon first” bills.

The difference this year, as opposed to the last seven, is there is a new presidential administration in the White House and it is of the same party that controls Congress – Republican. The Trump administration, however, has given few clues as to its intentions for the U.S. space program.

The first indication of any new space policy from the executive branch will likely come from the administration’s first omnibus budget proposal. As Space News reported on Jan. 26, the consensus in Washington is that the end of March would be the earliest such a budget would be produced.

In addition to HR 870, according to Space News, a new NASA authorization bill is in the works with a goal of having something concrete by the end of February 2017.

In 2016, before the end of the 114th Congress, the Senate had passed the 2016 NASA Transition Authorization Act. It would have essentially reaffirmed the current NASA plan for another year while the Trump administration formulates its goals for the space agency. There wasn’t enough time for the House to pass the bill before the close of that Congress. Any legislation that doesn’t pass in one Congress must start over in the next.

According to Space Policy Online, a similar bill is being readied by Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, and Babin. Its goal, like last year’s attempt, would be to achieve some form of continuity as to avoid a drastic change in direction, similar to what happened in 2010 when then-President Obama canceled the Constellation program in favor of a flexible path. Smith said that the first space-related hearing the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology would likely be in mid-February and look at NASA’s past, present, and future.

“The [House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology] will continue to ensure that the National Aeronautics and Space Administration pursues a balanced portfolio of programs reinvigorated with bold exploration objectives,” the committee said in a press release about its priorities for the 115th Congress. “Building upon the progress made towards development of the Space Launch System, Orion, and the commercial crew and cargo programs, the committee will ensure NASA stays the course and leads the world in not only space exploration, but also space science.”

Written by: Derek Richardson
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