NASA authorization bill clears Science Committee, but with a few changes

The outcome was never really in doubt: the House Science Committee approved HR 2687, the NASA Authorization Act of 2013, on a straight party-line vote. All 22 Republican members voted for the legislation, and all but one Democrat voted against it (Rep. Frederica Wilson of Florida did not vote.) The vote came after Democrats proposed a series of amendments to change various aspects of the bill, including several to increase authorized funding levels for various parts of the agency, as well as another bid by Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD) to replace the bill with a Democratic-backed version. Nearly all of those amendments were defeated.

“I want to make clear that I don’t object to the bill simply because it is a Republican bill,” said Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), ranking member of the full committee. “This Committee has a long history of bipartisan support for NASA, and Republican Members have in the past been fierce advocates for a robust and ambitious space program for the nation. Yet this NASA Authorization bill breaks with that proud tradition, and I frankly am at a loss to understand why.”

“The NASA Authorization Act offers us the opportunity to set goals and establish priorities for the greatest space program in the world. That is our responsibility—to take the initiative, make decisions and govern,” said Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), chairman of the committee. He reiterated previous statements by other Republican members of the committee that the authorization bill should adhere to spending caps, an argument that Democrats have rejected.

A few amendments did get approved, mostly covering relatively minor topics rather than bigger policy issues. Smith introduced, and won passage on a voice vote, a package of amendments that includes a revised Section 215, which in the original version of the bill called for the use of “cost-type” contracts for future rounds of the commercial crew program. That provision had raised the ire of committee vice-chair Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), who also worried the section gave advisory committees like the Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel (ASAP) too much power. The revised Section 215 focuses exclusively on ASAP, asking NASA to submit a report on what ASAP advice it intends or doesn’t intend to follow, and why. Other items in that same amendment call for greater use of the ISS for science and technology development, as well as calling for a student content to name NASA’s overall space exploration program and the Space Launch System specifically.

Democrats did win one victory in the amendments: one proposed by Rep. Johnson to remove Section 711 passed on a 20-to-19 vote. That section would have fixed a six-year term for the NASA administrator, and allow the deputy administrator to serve as acting administrator for no more than 45 days. Three Republicans—Rohrabacher, James Sensenbrenner (WI), and Steve Stockman (TX)—joined 17 Democrats in approving the amendment.

Perhaps the most controversial amendment proposed by committee members never made it to a vote. Edwards withdrew her amendment to create a Center Realignment and Closure Commission with an emphasis on studying whether the Marshall Space Flight Center should be closed. After describing her amendment late in the markup, which she said was prompted by the lower funding levels in the overall bill, she said she would be withdrawing it. She denied the amendments were designed to be “deeply personal” to members of the committee, such as Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL), whose district includes Marshall, and instead called on House members to take a more bipartisan approach like that in the Senate.

Brooks got the last word on the topic a little later in the markup, saying that Goddard had “swollen” in recent years. “I believe this gentlelady is proposing this amendment in response on perceived attacks on her district, but this is just not true,” he said, referring to cuts in Earth sciences funding in the authorization bill. The Edwards amendment “should have been, and in my judgement would have been, rejected.”

27 comments to NASA authorization bill clears Science Committee, but with a few changes

  • amightywind

    I am disappointed with the RINOs who voted for a 6 year term for the Administrator. I hope their constituents will take notice and punish them in 2014. All a 6 year term will do is saddle a new President with his predecessor’s political operatives. The NASA Administrator should serve at the pleasure of the President, like the cabinet secretaries.

    I also agree that Goddard is somewhat bloated with non-core activities.

  • Explorer08

    amightywind said: “The NASA Administrator should serve at the pleasure of the President, like the cabinet secretaries.”

    I understand what you are saying but you did not offer a rationale for your statement.

    • Neil Shipley

      The NASA Administrator is appointed by the WH or so I understand. Doesn’t that mean that they will serve at the pleasure of the President or else they would be fired. Yes or perhaps I’ve got this wrong?

  • Hiram

    “I hope their constituents will take notice and punish them in 2014.”

    Bwahahahah, pfff … Like voters will punish legislators for their decisions about NASA Administrator tenure. What planet are you living on?

    • josh

      he lives in a parallel universe where the average voters cares about his fever dreams of monster rockets and flags and footprints missions.

  • US will probably have crewed launch capability sooner than Congress would will:

    in 2015 via SpaceX

    Garrett Reisman, project manager with SpaceX – Jan 2013 remarks.
    and separately~SpaceX documents filed with NASA indicate that the company’s first manned mission would be an “orbital-demonstration flight” that would stay in space at least three days. It would not dock with the space station.

    and 2016 via Boeing.
    from brahmand.com July 20th:
    The first piloted orbital flight of the CST-100 capsule is scheduled for 2016.

    • DCSCA

      ….in 2015 via SpaceX”

      Pfft. Another press release. Space X has flown nobody.

      • josh

        and they never said they would at this time. pfft:D

        • DCSCA

          and they never said they would at this time. pfft:D

          Pfft. Inaccurate, Josh. They’ll never fly anyone on their own– the risk of failure outweight th value of success– hence the need a ‘customer’ to blame for a fly-and-fry-failure00 like NASA.

          • Coastal Ron

            DCSCA mumbled:

            Inaccurate, Josh.

            As usual, you are bereft of any facts – just uttering emotional drivel. Here is an article that backs up what Josh stated.

            And just an observation… for someone that purports to be a fan of space exploration, you sure don’t want many people to be doing it. I’m mean really, relying on NASA to expand humanity out into space? That’s not going to happen.

          • Neil Shipley

            pfft:D So childish I know but it’s going to be soooo much fun to see you eat your words when they do or will you change it to ‘SpaceX hasn’t flown anyone to the Moon’ or some such. Yep, that’s it. You’ll just shift the goal posts. Onya D.

          • Robert G Oler

            You are wrong Watch I know more then you do on this RGO

            Sent from my IPAD on the Indian sub continent

    • Neil Shipley

      I wonder what assumed funding levels undely these statements or would they have just assumed the existing ones in their modelling?

    • A_M_Swallow

      Under the proposed CCtCap contracts the first NASA Docking System will be available in February 2016. So SpaceX will have to use a dummy in its 2015 flight tests.

      • Coastal Ron

        A_M_Swallow said:

        Under the proposed CCtCap contracts the first NASA Docking System will be available in February 2016.

        The first test flights don’t go to the station anyways, so they can use the CBM (Common Berthing Mechanism) that the cargo version of Dragon uses.

      • Neil Shipley

        Any ideas as to why it will take so long for the docking system to be made available to the CCiCap participants?

        • Coastal Ron

          Good line of questioning, and that brought to light that there was a docking standard change recently that accounts for the availability dates.

          The NASA Docking System (NDS) has been “archived” at this time, and NASA is going with a Boeing-inspired Soft Impact Mating Attenuation Concept (Simac). Here is an Aviation Week article about it. It seems the NDS was not going to be easy to be made “universal”, and so they went with something more simple and more universal.

          From the article:

          The ISS docking adapter (IDA), which is in production, will modify the APAS inner ring soft capture mechanism to accommodate commercial crew vehicles with Simac, Suffredini says.

          The IDAs should be ready for station delivery in 2015, according to his estimates. The Simac docking hardware should be ready a year later, and NASA will likely provide the early production units to the winning commercial crew transportation initiative participants.

          No doubt they could accelerate that schedule if needed, but that will depend on the overall funding for Commercial Crew.

    • Robert G Oler

      yeah tha is correct I think that there are some amazing surprises in store shortly Robert G Oler

      From my IPAD on the Indian Subcontinent

  • Aberwys

    Any guesses on how this will play out along with the departure of the very capable CFO, Beth Robinson?

    • Neil Shipley

      Any particular reason as to why you think she was a ‘very capable’ CFO?

    • Dark Blue Nine

      NS: “Any particular reason as to why you think she was a ‘very capable’ CFO?”

      In 2010, NASA earned its first clean audit in eight years under Beth:


      Clean audits should be the minimal requirement for federal CFOs outside DOD. But compared to serial incompetence that came before, Beth was a huge improvement, regardless of whether she was “very capable”.

      Ab: “Any guesses on how this will play out…”

      There won’t be any budget passed until the fall, when Congress is forced to do so as part of an agreement on raising the debt ceiling:


      If a budget is passed at that time (probably an omnibus bill), it will be a compromise between the high $18B Senate mark and the low $16.8B House mark.


      The chambers usually split the difference, which would give NASA $17.4B, a half-billion dollar improvement over the FY13 sequestration mark, but $300M short of the President’s FY14 request.

      If there is no deal in the fall and sequestration continues, then NASA will get the $16.8B House level, but not necessarily the details and will probably have more flexibility in how that reduced level is allocated.


      • Neil Shipley

        Ok thanks. Perhaps she could go and sort out some of their program budget overruns then? Just joking – I think :)

        • Dark Blue Nine

          Preventing program overruns was never the CFO’s direct responsibility. It’s the responsibility of the relevant program managers, associate administrators, and administrator to manage program budgets and prevent overruns. There used to be a comptroller position (and staff) in the CFO’s office that was responsible for independently ensuring good program formulation and “go” decisions, watching program budgets for overruns and other problems, warning the administrator about these issues, and taking action to fix them or terminate failing projects. But Griffin, out of incompetence, malevolence, or just not wanting any dissenting voices on Constellation, did away with that office long before Beth took the CFO’s reins. That’s part of the reason why there are more and more serious problem programs like JWST festering for longer these days.

  • Robert G Oler


    There are other countries working on inflatables besides the US and Russians. Only fools and right wingers think that the race is to the Moon…flight ops tonight

    Robert G Oler

    Sent from my IPAD on the Indian sub continent

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