Congress, NASA

A tale of two bills

The House did not complete its work on HR 6063 earlier today, which means that final passage of the bill will have to wait until early next week. During about two hours of debate, though, members did get through a number of proposed amendments, most of them minor. The first of those amendments, as listed in a report accompanying the bill, makes a number of modest additions, including one that prevents NASA from carrying out any layoffs before the end of 2010. Another part of that same amendment adds additional language to a “Sense of Congress” section about commercial activity that should be music to entrepreneurs’ ears:

It is further the sense of Congress that United States entrepreneurial space companies have the potential to develop and deliver innovative technology solutions at affordable costs. NASA is encouraged to use United States entrepreneurial space companies to conduct appropriate research and development activities. NASA is further encouraged to seek ways to ensure that firms that rely on fixed-price proposals are not disadvantaged when NASA seeks to procure technology development.

Earlier Thursday, the Commerce, Justice, and Science subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee marked up its proposed appropriations bill, which includes NASA. According to a statement from subcommittee chairman Alan Mollohan, the bill includes $17.8 billion for NASA, over $150 million above the president’s request. The increased funds “are spread nearly evenly between science and aeronautics,” according to the release.

The release doesn’t contain any more information about the bill, which is not yet available online. However, according to Space News, the bill does cut $20 million from the $173 million requested for COTS. The reason for the cut isn’t mentioned. More details may come next week, as the full committee is scheduled to take up the bill on June 19.

So there you have it: while part of Congress is praising the capabilities of commercial space ventures and entrepreneurs, another part of Congress is cutting money from a program designed specifically for those same groups.

4 comments to A tale of two bills

  • Ray

    This is an interesting amendment: “In section 504, strike `and high-altitude balloons,’ and insert `high-altitude balloons, and suborbital reusable launch vehicles,’.”

    The original sentence in section 504: “It is further the sense of Congress that suborbital flight activities, including the use of sounding rockets, aircraft, and high-altitude balloons, offer valuable opportunities to advance science, train the next generation of scientists and engineers, and provide opportunities for participants in the programs to acquire skills in systems engineering and systems integration that are critical to maintaining the Nation’s leadership in space programs.”

    For any Presidential candidates thinking about using large chunks of NASA funding for educational programs, this Sense of Congress gives a better approach that helps both education and space at the same time:

    “It is the sense of Congress that NASA’s educational programs are important sources of inspiration and hands-on learning for the next generation of engineers and scientists and should be supported. In that regard, programs such as EarthKAM, which brings NASA directly into American classrooms by enabling students to talk directly with Astronauts aboard International Space Station and take photographs of Earth from space, and NASA involvement in robotics competitions for students of all levels, are particularly worthy undertakings and NASA should support them and look for additional opportunities to engage students through NASA’s space and aeronautics activities.”

  • Ray

    Mollohan’s release does mention the following space-related provision:

    “Within the funds provided for climate data, the bill provides $74 million for restoring important climate sensors to several satellites – GOES-R and NPOESS. There is no doubt about the need and importance of satellites, but they are an expensive proposition. To that end, the bill includes direction to the OSTP to develop a plan for commercial purchase of weather, environmental and space weather data.”

  • […] The details of the bill haven’t been disclosed yet, although the topline figure is similar to what the subcommittee’s counterpart in the House approved last week. Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), chair of the subcommittee, issued a brief statement about the bill, […]

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