The week of April 7 is shaping up to be an unusually busy one for space policy, with no fewer than four hearings on various aspects of civil and commercial space, including markups of two bills.
On Tuesday, April 8, the House Appropriations Committee’s Commerce, Justice, and Science (CJS) subcommittee is holding a hearing on NASA’s fiscal year 2015 budget proposal at 9:30 am. The hearing also includes a mention of “oversight of NASA security” with former attorney general Richard Thornburgh joining NASA administrator Charles Bolden as witnesses. That’s a reference to an independent report chaired by Thornburgh that Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA), chairman of the CJS subcommittee, used to criticize NASA for a poor “persistent organizational culture.”
On Wednesday, April 9, at 9 am, the House Science Committee’s space subcommittee will hold a markup session on a new draft of a NASA authorization act. Details about the bill, and how it might differ from an authorization bill the committee approved last July, aren’t yet available. The markup session will likely be brief: another Science Committee subcommittee has a hearing scheduled for the same room at 10 am.
On the other side of Capitol Hill, the Senate Commerce Committee’s space subcommittee will hold a hearing Wednesday at 10 am on “From Here to Mars”. The hearing features a mix of witnesses broadly discussing NASA’s exploration plans and issues with international and commercial cooperation. NASA associate administrator Bill Gerstenmaier will testify, along with Susan Eisenhower, chairman emeritus of the Eisenhower Institute; former astronaut Leroy Chiao; and NanoRacks managing director Jeffrey Manber.
That afternoon, the full Senate Commerce Committee will convene to consider a batch of bills and nominations. Among the legislation up for consideration is S. 2140, a bill introduced in March by Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM) that would allow commercial suborbital launch providers to simultaneously hold both a launch license and an experimental permit. Currently, a company that receives a launch license has to surrender any experimental permit it holds for that vehicles, but companies like Virgin Galactic have argued that they should be able to retain their permits for use on test flights. Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Tom Udall (D-NM) are original cosponsors of the bill, and Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Roger Wicker (R-MS) have signed on since then.