WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Bart Gordon (D-Tenn.), chairman of the House Science and Technology Committee, said he will make it a priority to pass a NASA authorization act in 2010 before retiring from Congress at the end of his term next year.

“With the challenges our country faces, we have laid the foundation to rebuild our economy based on innovation, investments in research, and a sustained commitment to math and science education. For these reasons, I am committed to reauthorizing both the America COMPETES Act and NASA in the coming year,” Gordon said in a Dec. 14 statement announcing that he will not seek re-election next year.

As chairman of the House Science and Technology Committee, Gordon plays a key role in overseeing NASA’s programs and policy direction. Gordon also oversees the activities of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and has been highly critical of NOAA’s management of the nation’s next generation of polar-orbiting weather satellites.

An advocate of NASA’s plan to retire the space shuttle in 2010 and replace it with vehicles optimized for carrying astronauts to the Moon, Gordon helped win passage of two major pieces of bipartisan legislation that endorsed the Vision for Space Exploration laid out by former President George W. Bush in January 2004. At the same time, Gordon has criticized the executive branch for failing to adequately fund NASA’s space shuttle replacement effort, and has been adamant that the agency not focus on getting back to the Moon at the expense of its aeronautics and science portfolios.

The administration of U.S. President Barack Obama is currently mulling options for NASA’s human spaceflight future, including plans that could scale back or cancel elements of the Moon-focused program. The NASA authorization bill Gordon says will be a priority during his last term likely would weigh in on Obama’s decision.

The son of a farmer and schoolteacher, Gordon was named chairman of the House Science and Technology Committee in 2007. Gordon said he is stepping down to take a more active role in the lives of his family members.

“Turning 60 has led me to re-evaluate what’s next,” he said. “I have an 8-year-old daughter and a wonderful wife who has a very demanding job. I am the only child of my 83-year-old mother, Margaret. They have made sacrifices to allow me to do what I love by serving in Congress, and now it’s my turn.”

Meanwhile, Rep. Jerry Costello (D-Ill.) said in a Dec. 14 statement he wishes to succeed Gordon as House Science and Technology Committee chairman.

“As the second ranking Democrat on the Science and Technology Committee, I am interested in and will pursue the chairmanship of the full committee and look forward to discussing it with our Democratic leadership and my colleagues in our caucus, said Costello, who chairs the House Transportation and Infrastructure aviation subcommittee that oversees [Federal Aviation Administration] regulation of commercial space transportation and infrastructure.”