In yet another sign that Congress and the White House are a long way off from agreeing on NASA's fate, the House science committee is considering an authorization bill that rejects the Administration's proposed new direction for the space agency. The draft of the bill, which was posted online yesterday, comes on the heels of an authorization bill approved by a Senate panel last week, which also rebuffs the Administration's proposal.
The House bill would have NASA develop its own spacecraft to fly U.S. astronauts to low–Earth orbit by 2015, in contrast to the Administration's plan to encourage commercial space companies to build such vehicles. The bill also wants NASA to develop a heavy-lift rocket by 2020 instead of merely selecting a heavy-lift design by 2015, which is what the Administration's proposal commits to. And the bill provides only $150 million over the next 3 years to enable commercial flights to carry astronauts to the international space station and back, just a fraction of the $3.3 billion the Administration wants to spend on promoting commercial space flight.
The Senate bill, by contrast, provides $1.6 billion over 3 years to help industry build commercial spacecraft that would help ferry astronauts into space. Like the House bill, it calls for immediate funding to develop a heavy-lift vehicle.
Of course, the future of human space flight is only one of dozens of topics addressed by the two bills.
Both bills support the Administration's plan to keep the International Space Station in operation until at least 2020. And both are in favor of the president's plan to have NASA do more toward promoting science, math, and engineering education.
However, the two bills are just one step in a long budget process that is bound to be contentious. The Senate committee authorization must now win approval from the full Senate; the House bill, which will be marked up on Thursday, must go through a committee vote and then be approved by the full House. Once the two authorizations are passed by the respective chambers, they must be reconciled. And then both the House and the Senate must approve appropriations to fund all of the authorized activities.