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FYI Number 108: July 12, 2005

NASA Reauthorization Bills Support Moon, Mars Exploration; Science

"The National Aeronautics and Space Administration should continue to support robust programs in space science, aeronautics, and earth science as it moves forward with plans to send Americans to the Moon, Mars, and worlds beyond." - H.R. 3070

As NASA readies for tomorrow's planned launch of its first shuttle since the Columbia tragedy in 2003, authorizers in both the Senate and the House have introduced bills to guide the space agency's future. Both reauthorization bills support President Bush's intentions to return humans to the Moon and to explore Mars. However, both also make strong statements on the importance of maintaining robust space and Earth science and aeronautics programs at NASA. The bills differ in a number of significant respects that will need to be resolved if they reach the House-Senate conference stage, including the years and funding levels authorized, utilization of the space station, and a retirement date for the space shuttle. Both bills would authorize more funding for NASA in FY 2006 than requested by the Administration. While the House bill agrees with the amount suggested by House appropriators, the Senate reauthorization bill recommends higher funding than that proposed by appropriators in either chamber. It is worth recalling that authorization bills provide spending guidelines; it is the appropriators who provide the actual money.

Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Science and Space Chair Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) introduced S. 1281 on June 21, with Sens. Daniel Inouye (D-HI), Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Ted Stevens (R-AK) as cosponsors. House Science Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics Chair Ken Calvert (R-CA) introduced H.R. 3070 on June 27, and stated in a press release that it "is needed to strengthen the agency and give Administrator Mike Griffin the tools he needs as NASA pursues the Vision for Space Exploration and continues its important work in aeronautics and science programs." Calvert's bill was cosponsored by Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY), who held a hearing on NASA's future on June 28 (see FYI #109) and plans a full committee mark-up of the bill on July 18. Below, quotations from the two bills are provided to compare provisions on selected topics of interest. The complete texts of the bills can be found at http://thomas.loc.gov/.

VISION FOR SPACE EXPLORATION:

S. 1281 finds that "It is the policy of the United States to advance United States scientific, security, and economic interests through a healthy and active space exploration program," and directs the Administrator to "establish a program to develop a permanently sustained human presence on the Moon, in tandem with an extensive precursor program...as a stepping-stone to future exploration of Mars."

H.R. 3070 calls for an exploration program that would achieve the goal of "returning Americans to the Moon no later than 2020" and enable "humans to land on and return from Mars and other destinations on a timetable that is technically and fiscally possible."

SCIENCE PROGRAMS:

S. 1281 states that "Basic and applied research in space science, Earth science, and aeronautics remain a significant part of the Nation's goals for the use and development of space." The NASA Administrator is directed to "conduct a rich and vigorous set of science activities aimed at better comprehension of the universe, solar system, and Earth"; "ensure that the various areas within NASA's science portfolio are developed and maintained in a balanced and healthy manner"; and report biennially to Congress on "NASA's assessment of the balance within its science portfolio and any efforts to adjust that balance among the major program areas."

H.R. 3070 calls on the NASA Administrator to ensure that NASA "carries out a balanced set of programs" that include robotic astronomy, astrophysics and planetary missions; research on Earth science and the Sun-Earth connection; and "support of university research in space science and earth science." It directs the Administrator to develop a policy to guide NASA's science program, describing the space and Earth science missions planned through FY 2011 including priority rankings and budget assumptions, and adds that the Administrator "shall draw on decadal surveys and other reports in planetary science, astronomy, solar and space physics, earth science, and any other relevant fields developed by the National Academy of Sciences" and consult with other agencies and academic and industry experts.

CREW EXPLORATION VEHICLE AS SHUTTLE REPLACEMENT:

S. 1281 finds that "Maintaining the capability to safely send humans into space is essential to United States national and economic security.... Thus, a gap [between retirement of the shuttle and operation of a Crew Exploration Vehicle] in United States human space flight capability is harmful to the national interest." To ensure "continuous human access to space, the Administrator may not retire the Space Shuttle orbiter until a replacement human-rated spacecraft system has demonstrated that it can take humans into Earth orbit and return them safely," except as provided by future laws.

H.R. 3070 calls for launch of a Crew Exploration Vehicle "as close to 2010 as possible," but explicitly states that the "Space Shuttle shall not be launched after December 31, 2010."

HUBBLE SPACE TELESCOPE:

S. 1281 calls on the Administrator, upon successful completion of the shuttle's return to flight schedule, to "determine the schedule for a Shuttle servicing mission to the Hubble Space Telescope, unless such a mission would compromise astronaut or safety or the integrity of NASA's other missions."

H.R. 3070 directs that the policy developed to guide NASA's science programs also "address plans for a human mission to repair the Hubble Space Telescope."

INTERNATIONAL SPACE STATION:

S. 1281 designates the U.S. segment of the International Space Station (ISS) as a national laboratory, with operations to be transferred to a "greater private-public operating relationship" after assembly is complete. The bill contains extensive language on the space station and its utilization for research. It directs that the station be able to fulfill international partner agreements, support a crew of at least six, and calls on the Administrator to "restore and protect such potential ISS research activities as molecular crystal growth, animal research, basic fluid physics, combustion research, cellular biotechnology, low temperature physics, and cellular research at a level which will sustain the existing scientific expertise and research capabilities until such time as additional funding or resources from sources other than NASA can be identified."

H.R. 3070 has little to say about the ISS beyond calling for a report on its research agenda and proposed final configuration, and a plan for its operation "in the event that the Iran Nonproliferation Act of 2000 is not amended." (The Act in effect prohibits the U.S. from purchasing services of Russian spacecraft after April 2006, forcing U.S. astronauts to rely on the shuttle as a crew return vehicle and remain on board only as long as the shuttle is docked to the station.)

EARTH SCIENCE:

S. 1281 calls on the Administrator, "in consultation with the Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Director of the United States Geological Survey," to submit a plan to Congress "to ensure the long-term vitality of the earth observing system at NASA." The plan should evaluate, among other things, "the need to proceed with any NASA missions that have been delayed or canceled"; the need to strengthen research and analysis programs; and "plans for transferring needed capabilities from some canceled or de-scoped missions to the National Polar-orbiting Environmental Satellite System." The Administrator should also "seek opportunities to diversify the flight opportunities for scientific Earth science instruments."

H.R. 3070 states that, "For each earth science mission undertaken," the administrators of NASA and NOAA shall appoint individuals "to coordinate activities" and to "make any appropriate plans" to transition the mission from a NASA to a NOAA mission.

JOINT DARK ENERGY MISSION:

S. 1281 does not specifically mention this mission. H.R. 3070 calls for a joint report from the NASA Administrator and the Director of DOE's Office of Science, including plans for the mission and specific milestones for development and launch.

AUTHORIZATION LEVELS:

S. 1281 would authorize the following amounts for NASA: FY06: $16.556 billion; FY07: $17.053 billion; FY08: $17.471 billion; FY09: 17.995 billion; FY10: $18.535 billion.

H.R. 3070 only authorizes a funding level for FY 2006, of $16.471 billion, the same as the House-passed appropriations bill.

Current-year funding (including supplemental funds) is $16.197 billion. The Administration requested $16.456 billion for FY 2006. House appropriators recommended $16.471 billion and Senate appropriators recommended $16.396 billion.

The bills address a broad range of additional topics, including aeronautics R&D, encouragement of a commercial space industry and its participation in NASA programs, management and operation of the NASA centers, and a strategy to address NASA workforce issues. Both bills call for a survey of near-Earth objects.

Audrey T. Leath
Media and Government Relations Division
American Institute of Physics
fyi@aip.org
301-209-3094

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