WASHINGTON — House Science and Technology Committee Chairman Bart Gordon (D-Tenn.) said Sept. 27 he anticipates the NASA authorization bill passed by the Senate last month will come to the House floor Sept. 29.
Last week Gordon unveiled a revamped version of the three-year NASA authorization bill his panel approved in July that recommends substantive changes to the original measure, H.R. 5781, including more money for commercial space taxis and robotic exploration precursor missions called for in the Senate version of the bill. But the move sparked criticism from commercial space advocates who said despite the recommended funding boost, Gordon’s compromise would place onerous restrictions on private space taxi development.
With House lawmakers expected to hit the campaign trail this week after approving a stopgap spending measure to keep the government running at current spending levels past Sept. 30, when the current fiscal year ends, Gordon said time is running out to complete work on a NASA bill.
“It has become clear that there is not time remaining to pass a Compromise bill through the House and the Senate,” Gordon said in a Sept. 27 statement. “For the sake of providing certainty, stability, and clarity to the NASA workforce and larger space community, I felt it was better to consider a flawed bill than no bill at all as the new fiscal year begins.”
In his statement, Gordon took issue with what he described as the Senate bill’s “unfunded mandate” to keep NASA’s space shuttle orbiters flying through Sept. 30, 2011 at a cost of $500 million or more without identifying a source of funds, “all but ensuring that other important NASA programs will be cannibalized.”
Referring to language in the Senate bill that seeks to speed development of a space shuttle-derived heavy-lift launch vehicle beginning in 2011, Gordon said he is concerned that the bill (S. 3729) is overly prescriptive.
“The end result is the Senate trying to design a rocket for NASA, while being silent on the safety of the vehicle,” he said. “The compromise language lets NASA determine the best approach in the design of the follow-on human spaceflight and exploration program.”
Gordon said his bill assures access to the international space station and minimizes the anticipated gap in human spaceflight transportation following the space shuttle’s retirement next year, leaving NASA reliant on commercial space providers to develop a follow-on capability for ferrying astronauts to and from the orbiting outpost.
“The Senate bill does not provide a timetable for a government backup capability, which could make NASA’s access to space completely dependent on commercial providers,” he states. “I am hopeful the commercial providers will be successful, but, whereas they have missed contractual cargo milestones thus far, I am wary of being completely dependent on them, because if they fail, we will be dependent on the Russians for longer than absolutely necessary.”
With action on a NASA spending bill not expected before the November elections, Gordon said he would seek to influence the congressional appropriations process and “advocate to the Appropriators for the provisions in the Compromise language.”
Congressional aides said S. 3729, the NASA Authorization Act of 2010, is expected to come to the House floor under a suspension of the rules, which would limit debate on the measure and require a two-thirds majority of members present and voting in order to pass. Despite Gordon’s reluctant support for the measure, opposition to S. 3729 is expected, particularly among House Republicans concerned with the three-year authorization’s nearly $60 billion price-tag.