(Washington, DC) - Today the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 6063 to reauthorize NASA by a voice vote.
"This legislation includes provisions to ensure the future health of the nation's aviation system, develop the tools needed to better understand and respond to the challenges of climate change, and contribute to achievement of the nation's innovation agenda," said Committee on Science and Technology Chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN). "H.R. 6063 is a fiscally responsible measure that sends a strong message to the next Administration that Congress believes that investing in a balanced NASA program of science, aeronautics, and human spaceflight and exploration is important and worthy of the nation's support."
"This bill is an excellent example of the work that Congress can achieve when we leave partisan bickering behind and come together to really focus on what is best for our nation," said Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics Chairman Mark Udall (D-CO) and author of the original legislation, which passed the House in June. "NASA has achieved remarkable accomplishments over the past five decades in science, aeronautics and human spaceflight. This bill provides important direction to ensure the leadership of the United States civil space programs and will help ensure that the next 50 years of our space program are equally bright."
"This is a common sense, fiscally responsible bill that will set NASA on a good course for the future," said Subcommittee Vice Chairman Charlie Melancon (D-LA). "HR 6063 ensures that NASA's centers are healthy and capable of supporting the agency's challenging missions."
"The country's technological edge in the world is largely due to the work done at NASA," said Energy and Environment Subcommittee Chairman Nick Lampson (D-TX). "To abandon NASA or even allow it to be under-funded is to abandon our leadership role in technology. This bill sends a clear signal that we believe NASA is a critical national resource and needs to be adequately supported."
H.R. 6063 passed the House by 409 to 15 on June 18, 2008. The Senate passed an amended version of the legislation on Thursday, September 25.
The changes to the original legislation include a prohibition against NASA taking any steps prior to April 30th of next year that would preclude the President from being able to continue to fly the Space Shuttle past 2010 if he and Congress decided to do so. NASA has indicated that delaying Shuttle shutdown activities for that amount of time will not impose additional costs.
"The provision should not be construed as a congressional endorsement of extending the life of the Shuttle program beyond the additional flight added by this bill to deliver the AMS to the International Space Station," said Gordon. "Rather, it reflects our common belief that the decision of whether or not to extend the Shuttle past its planned 2010 retirement date should be left to the next President and Congress, especially since both of the Presidential candidates have asked for the flexibility to make that decision."
The new legislation does not include the House-passed bill's Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) study of the impact of current export control policies on commercial and civil space activities.
"An OSTP review is important, and I am disappointed that it had to be dropped," said Gordon. "But I believe that there is likely to be movement on this important issue once the next Administration takes office."
The Senate bill incorporates most of the provisions of the House bill, including an authorization of $20.2 billion for NASA's programs for FY 2009, which includes $1 billion to accelerate completion of the crewed vehicles replacing the Space Shuttle; a focus on the key role NASA plays in the nation's innovation agenda, as well as authorizing an 11 percent increase over the President's request in scientific research. NASA is one of the federal agencies at which key scientific research takes place.
The amended bill maintains enhanced funding for aeronautics R&D to make air travel safer, more efficient, and more environmentally friendly. Specifically, the bill increases aeronautics R&D funding in order to address critical national needs such as the NextGen air traffic control management system. In addition, the bill focuses attention and resources on research and development to make sure that the aircraft of the future leave as small an impact on the environment as possible, whether that impact is noise, energy consumption, or harmful emissions.
"American aviation is vital to the continued health of our economy and our competitiveness in the wider world beyond our shores, as well as being important to our quality of life," said Udall. "But the vulnerabilities of our system were demonstrated just a few months ago when a problem with a critical computer network disrupted hundreds of flights across our country. H.R. 6063 contains important provisions that will help develop of the next generation air transportation system, which will improve the safety, efficiency, and environmental impact of American aviation."
The amended bill also maintains robust funding for space operations and exploration. In sum, the bill is focused on ensuring that all of NASA's activities--including its human space flight activities--will help address important national needs.
"America's human space flight activities are not, and should not, be an end unto themselves," said Gordon. "This bill helps ensure that the International Space Station will be utilized in as productive a manner as possible and makes clear that any long-term human exploration initiative should be undertaken as a cooperative international undertaking, under strong U.S. leadership."
On Wednesday, the House extended the waiver to the Iran, North Korea, and Syria Nonproliferation Act (INKSNA) to allow NASA to continue to purchase needed ISS-related goods and services from the Russians. The Senate needs to approve the measure next.