International Space Station as seen from Space Shuttle Atlantis in this July 2011 photograph. Credit: NASA

WASHINGTON — A bill introduced by a bipartisan pair of senators Feb. 27 would authorize an extension of the International Space Station to 2030 and also make permanent human settlement of space a national goal.

Sens. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Gary Peters (D-Mich.) introduced the Advancing Human Spaceflight Act Feb. 27, with its central provision authorizing an extension of operations of the ISS from 2024 to 2030.

Other members of Congress sought such an extension last year in response to a proposal in NASA’s fiscal year 2019 budget proposal to end direct federal funding of the station in 2025, part of an effort to commercialize low Earth orbit operations. The Space Frontier Act, introduced last summer by Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), included a similar extension of the ISS operations to 2030.

The Space Frontier Act passed the Senate by unanimous consent in December, but died in the House when it failed to win a two-thirds majority required under suspension of the rules, a House mechanism for the expedited passage of bills deemed noncontroversial. Opposition in the House, though, was based on other provisions of the bill dealing with commercial space regulatory reform and not the ISS extension.

Cruz said in a January speech that he would seek to reintroduce the Space Frontier Act. Either that bill or a separate NASA authorization act he is planning would likely include the ISS extension language, he said then.

Other sections of the 12-page Advancing Human Spaceflight Act includes requirements for reports on a strategy from transitioning from the ISS, the development of other human space facilities in or beyond Earth orbit, and life support systems. It also directs NASA to establish an advanced spacesuit program at the Johnson Space Center.

Perhaps the most forward-looking portion of the bill would amend the National Aeronautics and Space Act to make human space settlement a national goal, inserting language declaring that “human space settlement and a thriving space economy will enhance the general welfare of the United States.”

The term “human space settlement” is defined in the bill to mean “a community in space or on a celestial body in which humans live on a permanent basis and engage in personal and commercial activity that enables growth over time, with the goal of becoming economically and biologically self-sustaining as a part of a larger network of human space settlements.”

“The only way to continue learning about the universe around us is to aim high and dream big,” Cornyn said in a statement about the bill. He added in the statement that the bill was developed with “input from Houston’s space community.”

“This bipartisan legislation would ensure that the servicemen and women of NASA can continue their cutting-edge research and exploration missions, and I look forward to seeing the pioneering solutions that drive the next era of innovation,” said Peters, a former ranking member of the Senate Commerce Committee’s space subcommittee, in the statement.

This bill is not the first time Cornyn, who is typically not as active on space issues as Cruz, his colleague from Texas, has introduced a far-reaching space bill. In January 2017 he introduced the Mapping a New and Innovative Focus on our Exploration Strategy (MANIFEST) for Human Spaceflight Act. That bill, and companion legislation introduced in the House by then-Rep. John Culberson (R-Texas), called for the development of a strategic plan of missions leading up a human mission to Mars.

“By requiring a strategic plan from NASA, this bill will help focus existing resources towards achieving our long-term goal of landing a human on Mars,” Cornyn said in the statement about the MANIFEST for Human Spaceflight Act in 2017. That bill did not advance in the House or Senate after its introduction in 2017, and the new Advancing Human Spaceflight Act makes no mention of Mars.

Jeff Foust writes about space policy, commercial space, and related topics for SpaceNews. He earned a Ph.D. in planetary sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a bachelor’s degree with honors in geophysics and planetary science...