Senate Commerce to Markup 2013 NASA Authorization Bill on Tuesday

Senate Commerce to Markup 2013 NASA Authorization Bill on Tuesday

The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee will markup its version of the 2013 NASA Authorization bill on Tuesday, July 30.

Senators Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) introduced the bill, S. 1317, on July 17.  Rockefeller chairs the full committee; Nelson chairs the Science and Space Subcommittee.  Unlike the last NASA authorization bill in 2010 when Senate Democrats and Republicans (under the leadership of then-Senator Kay Bailey Hutchsion) worked closely together, this bill has no Republican co-sponsors.   Nelson painted a grim picture of the likelihood of a NASA authorization bill clearing Congress this year during a talk to the Space Transportation Association in June.  He said at the time that a partisan split on the bill was a possibility for “the first time in my memory.”

The NASA bill is one of a dozen pieces of legislation and eight nominations scheduled for action on Tuesday at 2:30 pm ET in 253 Russell Senate Office Building.   Among the nominations to be considered is that of Mark Schaefer to be assistant secretary of Commerce for oceans and atmosphere (and a deputy administrator of NOAA).

The Senate bill is quite different from its House counterpart, H.R. 2687, which was marked up by the House Science, Space and Technology Committee on July 18.   From the total funding authorized to the direction of NASA’s human space flight program to science priorities, the two pieces of legislation are so different that it is difficult to see how compromise eventually might be reached.  Among the difference are:

  • Total FY2014 NASA funding authorized:  Senate bill: $18.100 billion; House bill: $16.865 billion. (The President’s request is $17.715 billion.)
  • Future of human space flight:  Senate bill: requires development of an “exploration strategy” covering a broad range of destinations, but does not mention the Asteroid Retrieval Mission (ARM) specifically; House bill: prohibits spending on ARM, requires a “program” (not just a plan) to develop a “sustained human presence on the Moon and the surface of Mars.”
  • Science priorities compared to the President’s request:  Senate bill:  substantial increase for planetary exploration, slight decrease for Earth science, very similar for astrophysics, James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), and heliophysics; House bill: even larger increase for planetary exploration, deep cut to Earth science, smaller cut to heliophysics, identical for JWST and astrophysics.

A fact sheet compares the funding figures recommended in the Senate and House authorization bills, as well as the Senate and House appropriations bills for NASA, compared with the President’s request.

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