Space News reported last week in its print edition that an effort to pass legislation to expand NASA’s authority to offer prizes has stalled in the Senate. On November 18 Rep. Sherwood Boehlert introduced HR 5385, which authorizes NASA to establish the Centennial Challenges program and allows it to award prizes as large as $1 million, four times the current limit. A similar effort in the Senate, however, stalled when Democrats on the Senate Commerce Committee blocked an effort by sponsor Sen. Sam Brownback to pass the bill by unanimous consent. Even though Congress will reconvene again next week for another short lame-duck session, there seems little chance the Senate will pass the bill, and because of that the House seems unlikely to take the time to pass the bill, despite the lack of opposition there.
The Space News article doesn’t provide any details regarding why Democrats blocked the Senate version of the bill. According to one version of the story, though, the Democrats were not necessarily opposed to the bill itself but instead acted in retaliation for a hearing that Brownback, who chairs the science, technology, and space subcommittee of the commerce committee, held last month on prenatal genetic testing technology; the Democrats felt that Brownback biased the hearing by stacking it with witnesses primarily opposed to such testing.