Nelson, Hutchison Praise House Passage of Space Exploration Sustainability Act

Nelson, Hutchison Praise House Passage of Space Exploration Sustainability Act

In their final joint press release about the space program, Senators Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) praised House passage of their Space Exploration Sustainability Act.  Senator Hutchison retired from the Senate at the end of the 112th session on Thursday.

In the statement, Hutchison says the act reaffirms the intent of the 2010 NASA authorization act, which she and Nelson crafted as a compromise between what the Obama Administration wanted — commercial crew systems to take astronauts to and from the International Space Station (ISS), and what Congress wanted — a new NASA-developed rocket (the Space Launch System or SLS) and crew spacecraft (Orion) to take astronauts beyond low Earth orbit.   Nelson says the new act “reaffirms our commitment to a robust future for the space program.”

They are referring to a section of the act that expresses the “sense of Congress” that NASA should not take money from SLS/Orion to fund commercial crew or vice versa.  The press statement says it “clearly reaffirms the existing law in requiring a balanced approach” and “underscores the importance of not pursuing those developments at the expense of each other, or of NASA’s other vital missions.”

The bill, H.R. 6586, is awaiting signature by the President.  It began in the House as a straightforward extension of third party launch liability indemnification for two years, passing the House by voice vote on November 13.  The Senate replaced the House text with an amendment that extends indemnification for only one year, gives NASA relief from some restrictions in the Iran, North Korea, Syria Nonproliferation Act (INKSNA), and adds the “sense of Congress” language praised in the Hutchison-Nelson press statement.   That version passed the Senate on January 1 by unanimous consent.  The House agreed to the Senate amendment without objection on January 2.  

Thus there were no committee reports or debate on the floor of the House or Senate to amplify the intent of the Senate’s text.  Why the indemnification extension is for one year instead of two, or the full intent of the changes to INKSNA, has not been publicly explained, for example.

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