WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation today passed a bipartisan spending plan for NASA that extends the space shuttle program well into next year and advances the date for future human flight in a newly developed spacecraft to 2016 from a 2025 target-date initially proposed by the administration.
The Senate bill, in substantial part the work of U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida, lays out a direction for NASA for at least the next three years. Nelson, a Democrat, is chairman of the Commerce Committee’s space subcommittee and a former space shuttle crew member.
The legislation provides over a billion dollars to support a White House proposal to fund development of commercial space ventures. At the same time it emphasizes a NASA-led project to develop the next generation of big rockets that will carry future space ships and crews into orbit where they’ll be launched toward Mars and elsewhere. The bill directs NASA to start development immediately rather than waiting until 2015 to begin.
“The goal was to preserve U.S. leadership in space exploration and keep as much of the rocket-industry talent as possible employed,” said Nelson, following Thursday’s unanimous approval of the authorization bill.
In broad terms, the legislation extends the space shuttle for another year and keeps much of the KSC workforce in place. It advances heavy-lift rocket development, with an eye toward manned flights nearly a decade earlier than 2025, as had been proposed by the White House. It also provides the money for operating the International Space Station through 2020. And, it bolsters commercial space ventures by allocating about $1.6 billion for development in the next three years.
The bill marked a rarity in the nation’s Capitol these days: the devising of a plan that attracted unanimous bipartisan support. Key members of both parties in Congress ended up backing the bill, as did the White House. The bill now goes to the full Senate.
Following is a more detailed summary:
The bill would authorize NASA appropriations for FY 2011-2013 with the same top-line budget values as the President’s request to Congress. The bill would support an overall growth in science, aeronautics, and space technology and define a long-term goal for human space flight to expand a permanent human presence beyond low-Earth orbit. Key objectives of this goal would include full utilization of the International Space Station (ISS), determining the ability of humans to live in space for extended periods of time, maximizing the role of space exploration and technology in current and future missions, advancing knowledge and inspiring young people into higher education, and building upon international partnerships.
Human Space Flight. The bill would:
· Couple human space flight efforts to national and global needs and challenges;
· Provide a sustainable exploration program to incorporate new technologies and in-space capabilities;
· Require immediate development of a heavy-lift capability and continued support of an exploration crew vehicle to be capable of supporting missions beyond low-Earth orbit starting in 2016; and
· Support a sound performance and cost framework by maximizing use, where possible, of the workforce, assets, and capabilities of the Space Shuttle, Constellation, and other NASA programs.
Space Technology. The bill would:
· Invest in exploration technologies and robotic capabilities that are tied to the overall exploration framework and support U.S. innovation and competitiveness.
Commercial Cargo and Crew. The bill would:
· Continue to support commercial cargo development and provide additional funds to meet launch infrastructure requirements and accelerate development activity; and
· Expand the Commercial Crew Development Program in 2011 for concept development and supporting activities, while requiring a number of studies to ensure effective oversight of the potential initiation of a commercial crew capability procurement program no earlier than 2012.
International Space Station. The bill would:
· Extend the ISS to at least 2020 to support international and commercial collaboration and growth, research, and technology development to maximize the scientific return on the significant investment in the ISS;
· Establish an independent non-profit to work with NASA to fully develop the ISS U.S. segment as a National Laboratory; and
· Require an assessment of ISS requirements for parts and equipment needed to ensure its full functionality through 2020.
Shuttle Retirement and final “Launch on Need” Mission. The bill would:
· Authorize an additional Shuttle flight, contingent on a safety review, to provide necessary support for the extension of the ISS.
Science and Aeronautics. The bill would:
· Protect a balanced portfolio for NASA, including full funding of aeronautics and Earth and space science.
Education. The bill would:
· Support new education initiatives, such as teacher training programs, to reinforce NASA’s role in developing a workforce with strong science, technology, engineering, and mathematics skills; and
· Increase the investment in NASA EPSCoR (Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research) and NASA Space Grant program.
Rescoping and Revitalizing Institutional Capabilities. The bill would:
· Require NASA to examine alternative management models for NASA’s workforce, centers, and capabilities, while enforcing short-term prohibitions on major center displacements and reductions-in-force until the study is completed.