Senate Commerce Committee to Mark Up NASA Authorization Bill on Thursday, July 15

Senate Commerce Committee to Mark Up NASA Authorization Bill on Thursday, July 15

It’s official. Rumors that the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee will mark up a NASA authorization bill on Thursday are now confirmed on the committee’s website. Two unrelated bills and a Coast Guard nomination are also on the agenda for the meeting, July 15, 2010 at 10:00 am in 253 Russell Senate Office Building.

Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL), chairman of the subcommittee that oversees NASA, sent a letter to Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), his counterpart on the appropriations committee, on June 14 outlining the major points of the bill. Reports in the New York Times and other news outlets in the past three days also summarize its general principles. Depending on one’s point of view, the bill is either a compromise with the Obama Administration’s proposal for the future of human spaceflight or a rejection of it. President Obama wants to rely on commercial companies to build systems to take people to and from low Earth orbit (LEO), for example the International Space Station, instead of NASA. NASA’s assignment would be technology development for missions to asteroids and other “beyond LEO” destinations in 2025 and later under the Obama plan.

The Senate bill instead reportedly will keep NASA in the LEO human space transportation business with government development of a new “heavy lift” space transportation system and crew exploration vehicle in the near term. Commercial crew reportedly is supported in the bill, but not to the extent proposed by the President. The bill would also add at least one more space shuttle flight, a move Senator Nelson has championed for many months. Only two shuttle missions remain on the official flight manifest. The bill reportedly is a 3-year authorization and has bipartisan support in the committee.

The Commercial Spaceflight Federation issued a statement today responding to what it calls “misperceptions” about commercial crew. The Federation represents businesses and organizations “working to make commercial human spaceflight a reality,” according to its website.

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