On a panel about COTS at the NewSpace 2008 conference last Friday, Jeff Bingham, a staffer on the space subcommittee of the Senate Commerce Committee, said that the House and Senate had recently completed “pre-conferencing” of the NASA authorization legislation to speed its passage. “We had to do what is a six-week process in four days, and we did it,” he said, which resulted in some compromises, particularly in bill language regarding the Shuttle-Constellation gap. “We had some language [in the Senate version] that was a little bit more aggressive, shall we say, on dealing with the gap issues, and that’s had to be modified,” he said. Exactly when the Senate will take up the bill is uncertain. Bingham said earlier plans to bundle the bill with some other unrelated legislation to expedite its passage in the Senate fell through, so it may be taken up on its own as early as this week.
The Senate version of the authorization bill, S. 3270, was formally introduced last week; it’s not clear if this reflects the results of the pre-conferencing. The Senate version does include language calling for an acceleration of COTS, including development of a crew capability. The bill also calls for a report on what would be needed to recertify the shuttle for flights after 2010 as well as a provision that requires NASA to “terminate or suspend any activity of the Agency that, if continued, would preclude the continued safe and effective flight of the Space Shuttle Orbiter after fiscal year 2010.”
The pre-conferenced version of the bill, Bingham said, does include language calling for an additional shuttle mission to fly the AMS instrument to ISS. While the administration strongly opposes that provision, he said he didn’t think the administration would veto it if was included. “In some ways I welcome a veto on that, because I’d love to write the speeches to override that veto, which I think we could do handily,” he said. “But I don’t think it will get vetoed.”