The House Science Committee’s space subcommittee quickly approved an amended version of HR 4412 during a markup session this morning that lasted less than half an hour. Instead of the bill text as filed, the subcommittee adopted an amendment in the nature of a substitute with several changes to the bill introduced earlier this week.
The revised bill amends the provision in the new bill requiring NASA to develop an exploration roadmap, requiring such a report 180 days after the bill’s enactment (instead of one year as previously.) The bill includes a new section on the Commercial Crew program, specifying that “safety is the highest priority” in the selection of new contracts for the program, as well as an independent cost and schedule estimate due to Congress 30 days after the new contracts are awarded.
The amended bill no longer bars NASA from spending money on its Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM). It does, though, require a report within 180 days of enactment on budget and schedule for the mission, as well as what technologies the ARM will use that can also be used for Mars “which could not be gained by lunar missions.” Added to the amended bill is a provision requiring a report within 60 days on the Mars 2021 flyby mission concept proposed by Inspiration Mars, to be followed by an assessment “of whether the proposal for a Mars Flyby Mission to be launched in 2021 is in the strategic interests of the United States in space exploration.”
On termination liability, the amended bill prohibits reserving funds for termination liability for covered programs (SLS, Orion, JWST, and ISS) and requires NASA to give 12 months notice before NASA could terminate those programs either for cause or for convenience [corrected to reflect language in the bill].
Unlike last year’s contentious, partisan debate, subcommittee and full committee leadership of both parties praised the bipartisan nature of this revised bill. “The bill and amendment for subcommittee this morning reflect a true bipartisan agreement,” Rep. Steven Palazzo (R-MS), chairman of the space subcommittee. “The ranking member and I don’t always see eye-to-eye, but the provisions contained in this agreement are a testament that Republicans and Democrats can work together in an effective manner for the good of the nation.”
The only sour note to the bipartisan harmony was from full committee vice-chairman Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), who said that while he supported the bill overall, he disagreed with the long-term goal of the exploration roadmap of sending humans to Mars. “I believe it is an expensive folly to tie the American government’s space program so closely to the goal of putting human beings on Mars,” he said. “The odds are too great that this will result in a huge waste of very limited resources that could be spent on goals that are much more certain and much more beneficial to our people today. When one tried to cross a bridge too far, somebody’s going to get soaked.”