In the final days of the 110th Congress, Congressman Tom Feeney (R-FL) introduced legislation Thursday to try and close the Shuttle-Constellation gap. The “ISS GAP FILLER Act”, HR 7062 (full text not yet online), takes a multipronged approach to dealing with the issue, including authorizing over $3 billion a year in fiscal years 2010 through 2012 for shuttle operations and a one-time $2-billion authorization for accelerating Constellation. The bill would also create what sounds a lot like a COTS Capability D effort: “at least two private entities will propose rapid development and prototyping of a spacecraft that provides crew transfer and rescue services to the International Space Station.” In addition, the bill would direct NASA to begin negotiations with ESA to develop a human-rated version of Europe’s ATV cargo spacecraft.
“After reviewing all proposals,” the Feeney release states,
the NASA Administrator will select a course of action that best provides crew transfer and rescue services to the International Space Station. $575 million is authorized over three years for developing such access. If a vehicle is successfully demonstrated, NASA would contract with that entity – and not Russia – to transport American astronauts.” The bill would also extend NASA’s INSKNA waiver in a manner similar to S. 3103, but the House has already passed a more expansive waiver.
The odds of this bill making it through Congress—or even get a hearing—are effectively zero at this point in the session, even if Congress wasn’t already wrapped up in contentious debates about financial bailouts. Also, the authorizations included in the bill carry little meaning unless they’re backed up with corresponding appropriations, something that would be difficult to win approval for. Why introduce it now? Perhaps to set the stage for introducing something similar early in the next Congress. Also, it doesn’t hurt to look like you’re doing something to address a major issue to your constituents (Feeney’s district, of course, includes much of the Space Coast) when you’re locked in a major reelection fight.