A NASA authorization bill that sailed through the House Science Committee in April passed the full House Monday by nearly a unanimous vote. After a brief floor debate where no members expressed opposition, the House passed HR 4412 on a 401-2 vote, far above the two-thirds threshold needed for passage under suspension of the rules. The two members voting against the bill were Reps. Paul Broun (R-GA) and Mark Sanford (R-SC); neither spoke against the bill on the House floor nor otherwise explained their votes.
During the half-hour floor debate, members of the House Science Committee praised both the bill and the bipartisan aspect of the bill, a far cry from the partisan debate over a previous version last summer. “This act has a come a long ways from its original state nearly a year ago, when the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, of which I serve as ranking member, passed a different version of the bill on a party-line vote, a departure from the committee’s traditional bipartisan approach to NASA,” said Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX). “However, much has changed since that time,” she added, thanking the committee leadership for work on the revised bill.
The bill authorizes funding for only the current fiscal year, but more importantly includes a number of policy provisions in the bill, from a clarification of termination liability for NASA programs to the requirement for the agency to develop an “exploration roadmap.” Some members in the floor debate linked that latter provision to the National Research Council’s report last week that recommended the development of a “pathways” approach to human space exploration.
The bill also blocks NASA from spending money on its Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) and searches for smaller asteroids that would be targets for the ARM, requiring instead NASA develop a report with detailed cost and schedule estimates for the mission and an explanation of the technologies developed for the ARM that would be suitable for future human missions to the Moon or Mars. “The bill reflects the skepticism that members of the Science Committee and the scientific community have about the Obama Administration’s proposed asteroid retrieval mission,” said committee chairman Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX). “Congress will be better equipped to consider the administration’s proposed missions once we have all the proper information.”
The Senate has yet to take up its version of a NASA authorization bill. At the 30th Space Symposium in Colorado Springs last month, a Senate Commerce Committee staff member said a number of topics were under consideration for their version of an authorization bill, including extending ISS operations beyond 2020 and maintaining competition in the commercial crew program, but gave no timeline for when a bill might be introduced.