House SS&T Committee Clears 2014 NASA Authorization Bill

House SS&T Committee Clears 2014 NASA Authorization Bill

Bipartisanship was the order of the day at the full committee markup of the 2014 NASA Authorization Act (H.R. 4412) this afternoon.  The bill cleared the committee on a voice vote after adopting a manager’s amendment to the text that was approved by the Space Subcommittee earlier this month.

The bill provides funding recommendations only for FY2014, which is already underway, so are not very relevant.  Instead, the bill’s importance hinges on its policy aspects.  It does not include language adopted last year on a party-line vote prohibiting spending on President Obama’s Asteroid Redirect Mission, for example.  Instead, it states that a core mission of NASA is to land people on Mars and using missions to the surface of the Moon, cis-lunar space, near-Earth asteroids, Lagrange points and the moons of Mars are fine as long as they are incorporated in a Human Exploration Roadmap that NASA is required to develop and provide to Congress.

The bill also reaffirms that NASA is a multi-mission agency supporting a balanced program of human spaceflight and exploration, earth and space science missions, and aeronautics.

Among its more specific features, the bill prohibits NASA from spending FY2014 funds to shut down or prepare to shut down the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA).  The Obama Administration is proposing in its FY2015 budget request to mothball the airplane-based observatory because it cannot afford its $80 million per year operating costs.   Although that is part of the FY2015 budget request, which is not addressed in this bill, there is concern that NASA might use existing funds in FY2014 to begin the process of shutting down SOFIA, a joint project between NASA and its German counterpart, DLR.  FY2014 ends on September 30, however, and whether this bill becomes law before then is problematical.  Many members of this committee oppose the decision to put SOFIA in storage.

The bill as approved by subcommittee, and the manager’s amendment to it approved today, are on the committee’s website.  Perhaps what was most remarkable about the action today is that it was conducted in such a bipartisan manner, quite a difference compared to last year.  The bill approved by the committee last year on party-line votes was never reported from committee.  This bill, H.R. 4412, is the replacement.  Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD), the top Democrat on the Space Subcommittee, said today “we are light years from where we began in 2013.”

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