A bill appropriating $16.5 billion for NASA in 2006 was approved by the U.S. House of Representatives June 16 with policy language urging the State Department to come up with a plan to improve its export licensing process, a goal the aerospace industry has pursued for six years.

The report says that “America is being hampered in the international marketplace by the lack of a clear-cut, well-understood and responsive export-control policy.” It directs the State Department, in consultation with the Commerce Department, to produce a plan within 90 days of the bill’s enactment that will “help effectuate a more timely and accurate export-licensing process.”

A group representing U.S. satellite manufacturers and operators praised the House for including the language. “It’s a step in the right direction,” said David Cavossa, head of the Washington-based Satellite Industry Association.

The appropriations bill, which passed the U.S. House of Representatives by an overwhelming margin of 418-7, also restores planned cuts to aeronautics and adjusts the spending plan for science accounts.

The NASA money is contained in a $57.45 billion spending bill that also provides funding for the U.S. Departments of Commerce, Justice and State as well as several federal science agencies.

The bill almost appeared unchanged from the draft approved June 7 by the House Appropriations Committee. In its May 24 markup, the House Appropriations science, state, justice and commerce subcommittee recommended funding NASA at a level $15 million above what the White House requested, providing full funding for the space shuttle program and the agency’s space exploration initiatives.

The subcommittee parted ways with the White House on aeronautics funding, adding $54 million to that account in order to bring it up to the 2005 level of $906 million. The bill also added $40 million to NASA’s science accounts to mitigate proposed White House reductions to a number of programs. Most of that money — $35 million — is for the recently canceled Glory mission, designed to measure and characterize atmospheric aerosols and solar irradiance.

In the report accompanying the bill, the committee calls on NASA to stop taking steps toward agency layoffs that are planned to better balance NASA’s work-force skills until it produces a detailed roadmap for its future. The committee also directs NASA to produce a national aeronautics policy by February 2006 in light of the absence of “clear policy direction concerning the federal government’s role in the civil aviation industry.”

The report endorsed accelerated development of NASA’s Crew Exploration Vehicle in order to minimize the time gap between that system’s availability and the space shuttle’s planned retirement in 2010 . The committee also encouraged NASA to turn to the private sector for near-term alternatives to the space shuttle for ferrying astronauts and cargo to the station.

By Colin Clark