WASHINGTON, D.C. – In its last action before adjourning, the Senate last night gave final approval to the House Science Committee’s Commercial Space Launch Amendments Act of 2004 (H.R. 5382), sending the bill to the President, who is expected to sign it.

The bill, which was introduced by Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee Chairman Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), was approved by the House last month by a vote of 269-110.  The legislation is largely based on a previous bill, H.R. 3752, which passed the House in March of this year by a vote of 402-1. 

H.R. 5382 is designed to help promote the emerging commercial human space flight industry by putting it on a more solid regulatory footing.  It will also make it easier to launch new types of reusable suborbital rockets by allowing the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to issue experimental permits that can be granted more quickly and with fewer requirements than licenses.

Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) said, “Passage of this bill could be the opening of the next chapter of transportation history.  H.R. 5382 will help promote the nascent commercial human space flight industry while establishing a clear and balanced regulatory framework for space tourism.  The bill strikes the appropriate balance between protecting those who might fly and enabling a new industry to experiment widely with technology.  At the same time, it ensures that the federal government will protect the uninvolved general public from any dangers posed by this developing industry.

“This bill had many champions, but I would like to particularly thank Chairman Rohrabacher and Senators McCain, Hollings, Brownback, Inhofe, Frist and Reid for their efforts at helping move H.R. 5382 through Congress. Getting this bill through the Congressional process took almost as much work as getting a vehicle into flight, and it was a cooperative effort.”

“This is a great victory for the future of America’s space efforts,” Rohrabacher said. “The people who will invest the type of big dollars necessary to make this a major new step in mankind’s ascent into space have been waiting for the government to lay down the regulatory regime and set the rules of the game, and this is the first major step towards doing that.”

H.R. 5382 had faced an uncertain future up until the last minutes of the Congress.  The final version of the bill was hammered out in months of bipartisan negotiations between the House Science Committee and the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation that resulted in an agreement on Nov. 12.  That agreement then ran into several roadblocks in the House and Senate, and the bill appeared all but dead until final holds were lifted in the Senate last night.