2022 NASA Authorization Bill on Its Way to Biden’s Desk

2022 NASA Authorization Bill on Its Way to Biden’s Desk

The House passed the first NASA authorization bill in five years today. It is part of a bill that has strong support by President Biden, the CHIPS and Science Act, and he could sign it by the end of the week. A policy bill, it does not provide any funding for NASA or even recommendations for funding, but lays out bipartisan and bicameral support for NASA’s human spaceflight, science, technology, and aeronautics programs. Among the highlights are extending the U.S. commitment to the International Space Station through 2030, enthusiasm for returning astronauts to the Moon and going on to Mars, and launching a space telescope dedicated to finding asteroids that might threaten Earth.

The legislation has had a number of names and bill numbers as it worked its way through the House and Senate: the Endless Frontier Act, the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act, the America COMPETES Act, the Bipartisan Innovation Act, the Creating Helpful Incentives to Produce Semiconductors (CHIPS) Act, and the CHIPS+ or CHIPS-Plus Act.

The bill passed the Senate yesterday.

Finally today it cleared Congress as the CHIPS and Science Act, H.R. 4346. The main purpose is providing $280 billion aimed primarily at semiconductor manufacturing and scientific research through the National Science Foundation to help the United States compete with China.

But one part, Title VII, is a new NASA authorization act, the first since 2017. None of the $280 billion is directed toward NASA.

The bill passed by a vote of 243-187-1, with 219 Democrats (all but one) and 24 Republicans voting in favor, and 187 Republicans voting against. The one Democrat who voted present (abstained) was Rep. Sara Jacobs from the San Diego, CA area. Her grandfather, Irwin Jacobs, created Qualcomm and her uncle, Paul Jacobs was its CEO. As of press time, she has not publicly explained why, but it likely is unrelated to the NASA section.

The bill is an important expression of bipartisan congressional support for NASA and what it’s doing. While money is provided only by appropriators, authorization bills set policy and direction for the agency. The last NASA authorization was enacted in March 2017 just as President Trump came into office, a seemingly lifetime ago before the push to get astronauts back on the Moon or many of the science, technology and aeronautics efforts now part of NASA’s portfolio.

The bill covers the breadth of NASA activities, but as Russia sends conflicting signals about its commitment to the International Space Station, this bill makes it clear — the United States wants ISS to operate through 2030.

It also stresses the Moon is not the final destination for human spaceflight, but Mars. In terms of science missions, one provision directs NASA to launch the Near Earth Object (NEO) Surveyor mission by 2026 or “as soon as practicable.”  NASA wants to delay it to 2028.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson, who served for many years in both the House and the Senate, praised passage of the bill and thanked key members of Congress who made it happen.

“I am incredibly pleased Congress has passed the NASA Authorization Act of 2022 – the first authorization for our agency in five years. This act shows continued bipartisan support of NASA’s many missions, including our Moon to Mars approach, as well extension of U.S. participation in the International Space Station to 2030.”

“With strong support from the Biden-Harris Administration as well as this authorization, NASA will continue to advance scientific discoveries, enable sustainable aviation, address climate change, and much more.”

“As we work to send the first woman and first person of color to the Moon under Artemis, I’d like to specifically recognize Senators Maria Cantwell, Roger Wicker, John Hickenlooper, Cynthia Lummis, as well as Representatives Eddie Bernice Johnson, Frank Lucas, Don Beyer, and Brian Babin, for their leadership in passing this bill. This generation – the Artemis Generation – is part of a sustainable exploration program that will last decades.”

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