Spaceflight Insider

NASA authorization bill passes Congress

Photo Credit: Jason Rhian / SpaceFlight Insider

The first NASA authorization act in more than six years has cleared Congress and is on its way to President Donald Trump’s desk for his signature. The NASA Transition Authorization Act of 2017 was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives on March 7, 2017.

Having originated in the Senate, S.442 was passed there on Feb. 17, 2017. Once it made it to the House floor, there was some discussion, but nobody spoke out against it and it was passed by a voice vote.

NASA Orion spacecraft above the International Space Station image credit James Vaughan SpaceFlight Insider

The NASA Transition Authorization Act of 2017 directs the space agency to, among other things, study the possibility of using Orion as a means to send astronauts to the International Space Station should the Commercial Crew Program incur delays beyond 2019. Image Credit: James Vaughan / SpaceFlight Insider

S.442 was sponsored by Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and had seven cosponsors in the Senate from six states, including the two Florida senators, Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio, a Democrat and Republican, respectively.

Once signed by the president, it recommends (not authorizes) $19.5 billion in spending for the U.S. space agency for the fiscal year 2017. Currently, NASA is operating under a continuing resolution that sets its 2017 funding at 2016 levels, which was $19.2 billion.

Additionally, the authorization act sets policy directing NASA’s activities. This includes creating a detailed plan for long-term human space exploration, such as the agency’s Journey to Mars, and language directing a study to use Orion as a crew transfer vehicle for the International Space Station should the Commercial Crew Program incur delays beyond 2019.

Dr. Mary Lynne Dittmar, the Coalition for Deep Space Exploration’s Executive Director, said in a March 7 statement: “Today’s approval of the NASA Transition Authorization Act by Congress sends a clear message to the American people and our international partners that our nation remains committed to NASA’s space exploration program.

“Since the 2010 Authorization Act, NASA and its industry partners have made significant progress towards returning American astronauts to deep space and deploying the next generation of space telescopes and planetary spacecraft to reaffirm U.S. leadership in space.”

Dittmar also said that the new authorization will provide the framework for continued progress toward these national commitments.

“We appreciate the hard work of both the House Science, Space and Technology Committee and the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee over the last two years that have led to approval of this bipartisan legislation,” Dittmar said.

The NASA Authorization act of 2010 passed in September 2010, some two months after the Senate’s version. Since then, a number of authorization bills have made their way through the House. None passed the Senate, however.

According to Space News, congressional sources say S.442 has the support of the White House.

While the 2018 funding level for NASA has not been announced, there have been some worries regarding whether the space agency’s budget will increase or decrease as it was leaked that the budget for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration was due to be slashed by 17 percent.

The president announced recently that the department of defense would be seeing an increase of $54 billion while discretionary spending, which includes NASA, would decrease by the same amount.

Despite this, according to Space Policy Online, NASA Acting Administrator Robert Lightfoot remains “confident” in NASA support. He released a memo titled “Update on Budget Process” in which he explained that the process of formulating the 2018 budget is later than usual because of the presidential transition.

Once the president submits his 2018 budget request, it will then be up to Congress to decide how much money NASA and other discretionary items actually get.

 

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Derek Richardson is a student studying mass media with an emphasis in contemporary journalism at Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas. He is currently the managing editor of the student run newspaper, the Washburn Review. He also writes a blog, called Orbital Velocity, about the space station. His passion for space ignited when he watched space shuttle Discovery leap to space on Oct. 29, 1998. He saw his first in-person launch on July 8, 2011 when the space shuttle launched for the final time. Today, this fervor has accelerated toward orbit and shows no signs of slowing down. After dabbling in math and engineering courses in college, he soon realized that his true calling was communicating to others about space exploration and spreading that passion.

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