WASHINGTON, D.C. - The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation today unanimously approved a bill to reauthorize the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). The National Aeronautics and Space Administration Authorization Act of 2008 is an original Commerce Committee bill.
The bill would provide a $19.2 billion baseline authorization of appropriations for fiscal year (FY) 2009 to fund the various activities of the agency. The bill also would provide an additional $1 billion authorization of appropriations to accelerate the initial operational capability of a U.S.-owned human spacecraft and an additional $150 million for the development of a commercial crew vehicle. The total authorization of appropriations would be $20.35 billion.
"NASA has provided the United States a half century of scientific discoveries and innovations. The agency is at a critical point, and this bill provides guidance to keep NASA on the leading edge in this century's space race," said Commerce Committee Chairman Daniel K. Inouye (D-Hawaii). "I would like to thank Senator Bill Nelson for his leadership on the Subcommittee on Space, Aeronautics, and Related Sciences, for his dedication to space policy, and for the key role he played in drafting this important legislation."
In addition to authorizing funds, the bill specifies the following:
The bill reaffirms Congress' support of the goals of U.S. space exploration policy, including activities related to Moon missions and Mars exploration, and expresses support for both international cooperation and commercial involvement in space exploration activities.
The bill includes a number of provisions to ensure the United States has uninterrupted human access to space. Specifically, the bill would prevent the Administrator from retiring the Shuttle in 2010 if additional missions are remaining on the manifest, and it would require the Administrator to report to Congress on the steps, costs, and schedule for recertifying the Shuttle for flight beyond 2010.
The bill expresses support for the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services program and directs the Administrator to establish a competition to develop a private sector capability to launch human crew. Recognizing that the Shuttle will eventually be retired, the bill requires the Administrator to establish a Space Shuttle Transition Liaison Office to assist local communities that will be affected by the retirement.
The bill requires the agency to develop a plan to support the operations of the International Space Station beyond 2015 and to ensure the Station's scientific capabilities are utilized to the maximum extent. The bill also requires the Administrator to establish an International Space Station Utilization Advisory Committee to assess and recommend scientific research to effectively utilize the Station. The bill establishes a research fund of $200 million to support scientific research, including the development of flight hardware for experiments on the Station. Finally, the bill requires the Administrator to plan an additional Shuttle mission to deliver scientific experiments to the Station.
The bill aligns the agency's aeronautics research with the high-priority challenges described in the National Research Council's 2006 Decadal Survey of Civil Aeronautics. The bill outlines a series of aeronautics research initiatives related to the research and development of environmentally friendly aeronautics technologies and supersonic flight and the impact of sonic booms.
The bill also includes studies on field center leasing practices and project and work allocation; an interagency study of commercial space launch range facilities; a study on the impact of export control policies related to the aerospace industry; and an expression of support for the Near-Earth Object Survey to detect and identify near-Earth objects.