House Passes 2015 NASA Authorization Bill

House Passes 2015 NASA Authorization Bill

Just one day after it was officially introduced, and with no committee action, the House today passed the 2015 NASA Authorization Act, H.R. 810.

The bill is virtually identical to the 2014 NASA Authorization Act passed by the House last year by a vote of 401-2.   There was no recorded vote today; it passed by voice vote.  The bill was brought up under a procedure called “suspension of the rules” where two-thirds of the House must vote in favor.  If only a voice vote is required, it is two-thirds of however many members are present at the time.

Republicans and Democrats each had 20 minutes to speak on the bill and all who did praised the bipartisanship that allowed the bill to be brought to a vote so quickly.  The sponsors avoided tricky budget issues by authorizing funds only for the fiscal year that is already underway (FY2015) at the same levels that already were appropriated. 

Common themes were that NASA needs “constancy of purpose” and the bill provides that and will keep the United States as the world’s leader in space exploration.

The next step for this bill is passage by the Senate, which has not
announced its plans.   The Senate never took up the bill that passed the
House last year (H.R. 4412).

Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD), the ranking member of the Space Subcommittee of the House Science, Space and Technology (SS&T), stressed that once this bill is enacted, work will begin on a multi-year authorization bill. 

The bipartisan leadership of the House SS&T Committee and its Space Subcommittee announced agreement on the bill on Friday.   They skipped over holding hearings and markups, presumably since the bill is so similar to last year’s version.  The committee’s summary of the bill described these key features:

  • Human Spaceflight
    • states that a human mission to Mars is the goal for NASA’s human spaceflight program and calls on NASA to develop a roadmap to achieve that goal
    • continues the commitment to the Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion, and reiterates the directive in the 2010 NASA Authorization Act that Orion serve as a backup to commercial crew if necessary
    • supports building “at least one” commercial crew system
  • Science
    • relies on guidance from the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) regarding NASA’s earth and space science programs and asks for additional NAS studies on long-term goals of the Mars robotic program and an exoplanets strategy
    • emphasizes the need for a “steady cadence” of science missions, including a mission to Jupiter’s moon Europa for launch by 2021
    • stresses the importance of fulfilling previous congressional direction regarding detecting, tracking, cataloging and characterizing Near Earth Objects 140 meters in diameter or more
    • asserts that if earth science responsibilities are transferred to NASA from other agencies that NASA be reimbursed for that cost
    • maintains funding to support launch of the James Webb Space Telescope by 2018
  • Aeronautics
    • authorizes a robust program including efforts to integrate unmanned aerial systems into the national airspace, development of NextGen technology for air traffic management and research on aviation safety
  • Infrastructure
    • directs NASA to develop a plan to better position the agency to have facilities and infrastructure necessary to meet future requirements
    • provides transparency provisions to ensure NASA’s property and facilities are managed appropriately
  • Education
    • requires that NASA’s educational and outreach activities continue to support STEM curriculum and inspire the next generation of explorers


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