NASA Authorization Bill Signed Into Law, Funding Still Needed

NASA Authorization Bill Signed Into Law, Funding Still Needed

President Obama signed the NASA authorization bill into law today.

In a NASA media teleconference earlier in the day, NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden, NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver, Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL), Rep. Suzanne Kosmas (D-FL), and former astronaut Sally Ride commended the bipartisan achievement of passing the bill. Senator Nelson cautioned, however, that the funding still must make it through the appropriations process and repeatedly referenced the difficult financial circumstances facing the country as a substanial hurdle for the agency’s FY2011 funding level.

Based on a transcript provided by NASA, in response to a question about whether the bill sufficiently funds a new heavy lift launch vehicle, he replied:

“What is in this bill is $11.5 [b]illion over the next six years anticipated, even though it’s a three-year authorization, for the development and the testing of a heavy-lift rocket.

Now, if we can’t develop a new rocket for $11.5 [b]illion, building on a lot of the technologies that were already developed in spending $9 [b]illion, if we can’t do it for that, then we ought to question whether or not we can build a rocket.

So we are in fiscally austere times, and we have to be realistic about the spending of monies.”

(Editor’s note: the transcript said “millions” in each case instead of “billions.”)

Later, he reminded everyone that when the Senate Appropriations Committee approved the bill that includes NASA (the Commerce-Justice-Science bill), all Republicans voted against it and other bills approved by the committee that day, not because of NASA, but because of the overall amount of spending represented by the bills. Some Senate Republicans are trying to cut government spending back to FY2008 levels, which Senator Nelson said today would be “devastating to NASA.” (NASA’s FY2008 funding level was $17.3 billion, compared to $19 billion requested for FY2011.) None of the 12 FY2011 regular appropriations bills has made it to the Senate floor for debate yet.

Getting an authorization bill enacted is a step forward in determining NASA’s exploration future, but the next step — getting Congress to approve the funding to implement the policy — will be at least as difficult.

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