Senator Nelson Outlines Possible Compromise on Obama Plan

Senator Nelson Outlines Possible Compromise on Obama Plan

In February, Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), chair of the Senate appropriations subcommittee that funds NASA, wrote to her authorization counterpart, Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL), a letter outlining the principles that she would be using to assess President Obama’s new plan for NASA. Yesterday, Senator Nelson wrote back, revealing a possible compromise with the Administration.

The letter, which is available via the Orlando Sentinel’s Write Stuff blog, NASAWatch, and Space News, but does not seem to be on Senator Nelson’s site or that of the Senate Commerce Committee, describes the key features of the authorization bill Senator Nelson plans to introduce. He chairs the Commerce Committee’s subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics that authorizes NASA funding. (Not sure of the difference between an authorization and an appropriation? See our “What’s a Markup?” Fact Sheet.)

According to the letter, the authorization bill will be “consistent with several of the President’s priorities.” It will continue the International Space Station at least until 2020, and provide logistics and support needed to maximize its scientific potential, include commercial cargo delivery. It also will call for an additional space shuttle flight (the “Launch on Need” mission) if it successfully completes an independent review of its safety. The Obama Administration does not have this mission in its plan.

As for commercial crew, Senator Nelson says that the bill will take a “walk before you run” approach, continuing the Commercial Crew Development Program, but also requiring a number of studies, assessments and milestones with astronaut safety as the “core component of these requirements.”

The bill also will propose that NASA work with international partners to define near-term missions “in lunar and high-Earth orbits of space” that would “incorporate both robotic capabilities and the development of on-orbit capabilities, technology and infrastructures.” The letter refers to initial missions to Lagrange points or lunar orbit as forming the foundation for follow-on missions elsewhere, but does not mention a human mission to an asteroid as announced by President Obama on April 15. The letter also says that a “mechanism to provide long-term strategic guidance on human space flight” is being explored.

Lastly, the letter says that NASA will be directed to initiate development of a heavy lift launch vehicle (HLLV) in FY2011, not in FY2015 as President Obama proposed, and that the HLLV and a crew exploration vehicle “leverage the workforce, contracts, assets and capabilities of the Shuttle, Ares I and Orion efforts.”

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