Edwards To Release Democratic Version of 2013 NASA Authorization Bill Today

Edwards To Release Democratic Version of 2013 NASA Authorization Bill Today

Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD) said this morning that she will release her own version of a 2013 NASA authorization bill this afternoon.   A Republican draft is already scheduled for markup by the Space Subcommittee of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee on Wednesday.  Edwards is the top Democrat on that subcommittee.

Speaking to an audience at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, DC, Edwards described her bill as “bold” and “audacious.”   The thrust of her speech is that everyone — including the White House, Congress, industry, and academia — needs to unite behind a single compelling vision and that vision is a human trip to Mars in 2030.  She stressed that Congress should not dictate how to achieve that goal, but leave the details to NASA and industry experts, likening Congress’s role to a Board of Directors.

She said the bill also stresses the multi-mission focus of NASA, emphasizing that NASA is not only about human spaceflight, but science.   She called for a balanced, adequately funded NASA portfolio, with achievable timelines and safety as a priority.  She said the current version of the bill, drafted by Republicans, is constrained by today’s budget situation and instead she wants a “21st Century space innovation agenda.” 

“It is time now that we commit, I mean really commit, to a manned Mars mission,” she exclaimed, using an anachronistic term for human spaceflight.  She acknowledged there are safety and funding issues in such an undertaking, but argued that if President John F. Kennedy had worried about funding, he would never have committed to the Apollo program.  In her view, therefore, it is timely to make a commitment to Mars now despite the current budget outloook.  She said that when investing in science, one must think “aspirationally” and her bill lays out a 15-year funding profile that will spur “development at a pace and on a timeline that’s responsible.”

As recounted in detail in John Logsdon’s book “JFK and the Race to the Moon,” President Kennedy did indeed worry about the costs of achieving his lunar landing goal.  While publicly supportive of it until his death, behind the scenes he questioned the magnitude of the investment and on two occasions approached Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev about the possibility of a joint mission.

Edwards did highlight the potential of international cooperation in achieving her Mars goal, but also stressed the need for the United States to be the leader.

Many advocates of sending humans beyond low Earth orbit already accept that Mars is the eventual destination.   The intense debate over the past several years has been over the intermediate steps.   President George W. Bush wanted to return humans to the Moon first.  In 2010,  President Obama decided there was no need to return to the Moon and an asteroid should be the next step, setting off the controversy that continues to this day.

When asked if having competing Republican and Democratic versions of the bill would make the debate over NASA more partisan than usual, she replied that “sadly” the debate has been quite partisan for the past several years.  She said that Congress needs to do the right thing for the space program for the next generation and “that doesn’t have a D or an R written behind it, it has an S, for science.”

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