BREAKING: House to vote on Senate NASA bill WEDNESDAY

BREAKING: House to vote on Senate NASA bill WEDNESDAY

BREAKING: House to vote on Senate NASA bill WEDNESDAY

Bad Astronomy
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Sept. 28 2010 3:56 PM

BREAKING: House to vote on Senate NASA bill WEDNESDAY

[UPDATE 2: 21:40 MDT: The House passed the funding bill 304 - 118, garnering the needed 2/3 of the vote. Yay!]

[UPDATE (for real) 19:45 MDT: The House just postponed voting on the NASA bill. It should get a counted vote later tonight. I'm not sure when.]

Phil Plait Phil Plait

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!  

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[UPDATE: 3:30 MDT: The AP is reporting that the NASA bill passed the House, and will be sent to Obama to sign. I have no other sources for this yet, but it looks real. If so, yay! I'll add that the House was stymied on other important measures due to what looks to me to be more of their eternal and frankly stupid partisan bickering. At least they got the NASA bill done.] That report is premature, as I had feared. As of 4:45 MDT the bill has not yet been brought up to the Floor. Still waiting...

NASA logoBREAKING NEWS:

The US House of Representatives is slated to vote on a NASA funding bill WEDNESDAY. The bill is essentially the same the Senate passed recently. The House had a compromise bill up for debate, but decided yesterday there wasn't time before Congress goes on vacation. So they are going to vote on the Senate version instead.

What follows below is some detail.

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The quick version: I support this bill, and I urge people to call their Representative and ask them to vote for it. I've already called my Congressman and asked him to support it.

The longer version:

This bill, called "The National Aeronautics and Space Administration Authorization Act of 2010" doles out authorizes funding for NASA from 2010 - 2013, and advises NASA on what to spend that money on.

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The bottom line is the funding:

For fiscal year 2011: $19,000,000,000

For fiscal year 2012: $19,450,000,000

For fiscal year 2013: $19,960,000,000

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Note that the amount goes up every year, an indication that Congress is willing to not only support NASA's work, but make it sustainable.

They make this clear right up front:

LONG TERM GOAL. —The long term goal of the human space flight and exploration efforts of NASA shall be to expand permanent human presence beyond low-Earth orbit and to do so, where practical, in a manner involving international partners.

That stresses human spaceflight, but the bill funds robotic Earth, space, and solar science strongly as well. I can always wish for more funds for unmanned exploration (and have it part of the long-term goal), but the money is there and I'm glad.

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NASA questionAs for the Shuttle and Constellation, that gets interesting. From what I can tell, this bill axes Constellation. I support that, as I have all along. I think that some progress has been made in a follow-on rocket system, but Constellation is bogged down, over budget, and behind schedule. There are lots of reasons for that, but the bottom line is that while some things have been learned, the rocket system itself will take far too long and cost far too much.

So in this bill Constellation is gone and new system is required. I like that, but then the bill goes into details of what this new system should do -- like how much payload it can carry into orbit, and so on. I'm not thrilled with that. I think Congress should give general goals and leave the details to NASA experts. The bill does mention the Moon, Mars, and near-Earth asteroids, so that makes me happy. There are indeed bottom-line requirements to explore these three goals, but the bill doesn't need to delineate them.

As for the Shuttle, I am not thrilled to see that the bill supports the Shuttle through fiscal year 2011. I don't know if that's really necessary given the current launch manifest, and I have a sneaky suspicion it's a jobs program to keep NASA people employed. I want to see them employed, but it should be done the right way. Immediate funding to move their expertise to the new launch system might be a better way to do this. But again, this is just a suspicion of mine, and certainly not enough to detract from the rest of the bill.

Still, overall I think the bill does the right thing here. It also reinforces NASA's commitment to private launch vehicles, which is critical. SpaceX is on the thin edge of getting their Falcon 9 rocket capable of flights to the space station, and they need to influx of funding to keep that up.

Speaking of ISS, the bill also support it to 2020. As I have said many times, I am not a huge fan of the station, but it's built now, and it would be a waste of money to let it lie fallow. It costs far less now to do things with it than it did to build it, so we can continue to work on it and perhaps get some good science and knowledge out of it.

There are lots of smaller projects supported in the bill -- I was surprised and happy to see support for a suborbital research program, as well as restarting the radioisotope thermoelectric generator program to supply power to deep space science missions -- but I'm not too concerned over those as yet. The important bits are about supporting science, supporting manned missions, and doing both the right way. Defunding Constellation, restarting the follow-on launch system, and putting money into science is the right way to do this.

So again, I support this bill in general, and think the House should pass it. Mind you, Friday is the last day for session; after that everyone goes home to start campaigning. As things stand now, NASA has no budget and no future. The House must pass this bill if NASA is to get the funding it needs. The fiscal year ends on Thursday!

So I ask that you contact your Representative and ask them to vote yes on this bill. Say it by name: S.3729, the NASA Authorization Act of 2010. That way you can be clear. From what I understand, it needs a 2/3 majority to pass, so it needs every vote it can get.

For my part, I'll try to stay up on this news as it occurs Wednesday. Stay tuned.