Last week, Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) announced that he was introducing in the Senate a version of a NASA authorization bill that would be different in many respects than the House version. That Senate bill got lost in the debate over that House bill, as well as consideration of separate appropriations bills in the House and Senate than fund NASA, but the text of the Senate bill, S. 1317, is worth a look. First, a comparison of the authorized spending levels for fiscal year 2014 between the House and Senate bills (amounts in millions of dollars):
|- Exploration Ground Systems||$0.0||$350.0||$350.0|
|- Exploration R&D||$305.0||$325.0||$20.0|
|- Commercial Crew||$700.0||$800.0||$100.0|
|- Space and Flight Support||$833.8||$832.0||-$1.8|
|- Earth Science||$1,200.0||$1,800.0||$600.0|
|- Planetary Science||$1,500.0||$1,400.0||-$100.0|
|Cross Agency Support||$2,600.0||$2,850.0||$250.0|
One of the biggest differences is in Earth sciences, where the Senate bill authorizes 50 percent more money than the House, $1.8 versus $1.2 billion, something that was expected given Nelson’s comments on the draft House bill last month. There’s also smaller increases for space technology, commercial crew, and cross-agency support, which combined account for most of the larger value of the Senate authorization.
Unlike the House appropriations and authorization bills, the Senate authorization bill contains no prohibition on spending for NASA’s proposed asteroid redirection mission. It instead calls for NASA to develop an “exploration strategy” 270 days after the bills enactment, and every two years thereafter. That strategy would outline how NASA would perform its exploration goals, including landing humans on Mars (something explicitly included in this bill), “through a series of successive, free-standing, but complementary missions making robust utilization of cis-lunar space and employing the Space Launch System, Orion, and other capabilities.” Those “other capabilities” would include international partnerships and work with private industry.
Regarding the ISS, the bill would require NASA to provide a report on extending the life of the station beyond 2020 “to at least 2028,” including technical requirements, costs, and interest from international partners in such an extension. The bill also seeks “to clarify the roles and responsibilities” of NASA and other organizations involved in managing ISS research.
On commercial crew, the bill would have NASA provide a report on the agency’s strategy for transitioning from Space Act Agreements to Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) contracts for the procurement of crew transportation services. It also asks NASA to evaluate the costs and benefits of having multiple commercial crew and cargo providers, citing specifically “the potential need for diversified cargo and sample return capabilities.”