House Approves NASA Authorization Bill

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WASHINGTON — The House of Representatives passed a NASA authorization bill Feb. 10 that its sponsors acknowledge is “largely identical” to a bill the chamber passed in 2014, hoping its passage sets the stage for work on a more ambitious bill later in the year.

On a voice vote, the House passed H.R. 810, the NASA Authorization Act of 2015, after a half-hour debate on the House floor where no members spoke in opposition to the bill.

The legislation authorizes funding for NASA for fiscal year 2015 at the same levels in the omnibus appropriations bill passed by Congress in December. The bill retains the same policy provisions as the earlier bill, with only minor changes from the version the House passed on a 401–2 vote in June 2014.

Planet Mars
The bill directs NASA to carry out a number of studies in various topics, including development of a human exploration “roadmap” that defines specific technologies and other capabilities needed for humans to eventually reach the surface of Mars.

The bill directs NASA to carry out a number of studies in various topics, including development of a human exploration “roadmap” that defines specific technologies and other capabilities needed for humans to eventually reach the surface of Mars. NASA would be required to deliver that roadmap to Congress 180 days after the bill became law, and update it every two years thereafter.

“Over the last decade, the human exploration program at NASA has been plagued with instability from constantly changing requirements, budgets, and missions,” said Rep. Steven Palazzo (R-Miss.), chairman of the House Science Committee’s space subcommittee and the lead sponsor of the bill. He argued that provisions of the bill like the development of a roadmap address that concern. “NASA needs Congress to provide consistency of purpose.”

The expedited passage of this bill was possible primarily because it was so similar to the authorization bill the House passed last year. “Other than relevant date changes, the bill remains unchanged from last year’s bipartisan House-passed H.R. 4412, and retains the important and timely policy direction that NASA needs now to ensure stability and to sustain progress on its programs,” said Rep. Donna Edwards (D-Md.), ranking member of the space subcommittee and a co-sponsor of the bill.

House members said that they hope the Senate quickly takes up the House bill, unlike last year when the Senate failed to pass the House bill or an alternative version. “It is not perfect by any means,” Edwards said of H.R. 810. “I look forward to working with my colleagues on the committee and our colleagues in the Senate to make sure that we get to the end point.”

Edwards and others said they see H.R. 810 as a steppingstone to a multiyear authorization bill that they plan to take up later this year, assuming the Senate does pass this bill. “This bill enables stability while providing our committee the time needed to develop a comprehensive multi-year reauthorization of NASA once H.R. 810 is enacted into law,” said Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas), ranking member of the full committee.

That later authorization bill, though, could reopen debates about some issues, one member suggested. “I would like to note that significant differences of opinion remain on many of the provisions of this bill, but I won’t go into any of them now,” said Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), who said he supported the bill overall. “I think I might have worried some of my colleagues on that.”