The House Science and Technology Committee approved on Thursday its version of a NASA authorization bill, HR 5781. The approval came after a long markup that considered over 30 amendments, adopting 23 of them (listed here). Among the most significant amendments were those that authorize an additional shuttle flight and also reduce the scope of the overall authorization bill from five years to three, the same length as the Senate version.
The committee, though, rejected amendments by Reps. Suzanne Kosmas (D-FL) and Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) to add funding for commercial cargo and crew programs, bringing them in line with the Senate version (in the case of commercial crew) and the original NASA proposal for the $312 million of additional COTS funding for FY11. The Kosmas amendment for commercial crew was opposed by members who were concerned about taking money away from government development of a launch vehicle and spacecraft. “I am philosophically in tune with Ms. Kosmas and Mr. Rohrabacher,” committee chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN) said when discussing his opposition to Kosmas’s amendment was debated, “but I am not fiscally attuned to that.” Rohrabacher’s amendment to restore the FY11 COTS funding was opposed by Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD) in because the current COTS awardees, Orbital Sciences and SpaceX, who also said the additional funding was not needed to achieve their current milestones. “You know” she said to Rohrabacher during the debate on the amendment, “if I had may way we probably would have had zero for this program” instead of the $14 million in the legislation.
The committee, though, did reject another amendment by Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL) to eliminate the $100-million-a-year loan/loan guarantee program for commercial crew development in the legislation. “This is the epitome of socialism and corporate welfare,” he said of the proposal. “Why hand $500 million of federal resources to companies that don’t need it, haven’t asked for it, don’t want it, and in all likelihood will provide nothing for it?” Rohrabacher, while not happy with the loan program (in part because it showed up in the legislation without prior discussion in earlier committee hearings), defended commercial involvement, and the amendment was defeated. Also, the commercial suborbital industry won a minor victory when the committee approved an amendment by Rep. Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM) that struck the $1 million authorization cap on the Commercial Reusable Suborbital Research (CRuSR) program in the original version of the bill (it did not hurt that one of the companies that could benefit from CRuSR, Armadillo Aerospace, is in the home district of the committee’s ranking member, Ralph Hall (R-TX).)
Chairman Gordon emphasized in his statement that the authorization bill tried to find a path between the original Constellation program and the original White House proposal that would have killed Constellation, neither of which Gordon said were “executionable” as planned given available funding. “I believe the bill before us today provides the nation with a productive future for its human spaceflight program, one that can be sustained even in the midst of budgetary uncertainty,” he said.
However, the bill is at odds with the Senate authorizing and appropriating legislation in some key areas, like commercial crew and technology development programs. How (or even if) those will be reconciled, assuming neither bill is radically altered on the House or Senate floor, remains to be seen. Another question is how House appropriators follow the lead of this authorization bill. One appropriator, Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-AL), signaled his support for the bill “because it strongly rejects the Administration’s proposal to kill Constellation by providing a well thought-out strategy for maintaining a strong and well-rounded American space program.” However, recall last week that Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA), the ranking member of the appropriations subcommittee with oversight of NASA, endorsed the Senate version of the authorization legislation, primarily for backing immediate development of a heavy-lift launcher, although that came before the House version of the legislation was completed.