Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Congress Fiddles with NASA

Constellation apparently won't survive the Congressional budget process in its current form, although elements may continue to ensure pork for the districts of certain elected officials.

The Senate Commerce Committee and the House Science Committee are moving ahead with their respective bills authorizing the FY 2011 NASA budget.

The Senate bill has already passed its committee, while the House bill is still in markup.

Click here to read the House bill.

Click here to read a press release about the Senate bill.

The consensus seems to be that both houses are keeping in place much of the Obama administration's proposed FY 2011 NASA budget, but are underfunding key elements such as the migration to commercial space to ensure pork continues to flow to their respective districts.

Aviation Week reported on July 16 about the Senate committee's bill:

A NASA oversight committee unanimously passed a bill July 15 that supports the Obama administration's plan to end the Constellation Moon program — in name anyway — but replaces the White House’s proposed technology initiatives with a heavy-lift rocket program, continued support for the space shuttle and an Orion-like capsule capable of deep space travel.

The spending plan passed by the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation keeps NASA’s overall budget for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1 at $19 billion, as requested by the White House. However, rather than spending $6 billion over five years to seed commercial launch services for getting astronauts to and from the International Space Station, the Senate plan requests $1.6 billion over three years for commercial launch development.

Spaceflight Now reported on July 20 about the House bill:

A draft NASA bill being considered by the House Science Committee does not provide for an extra space shuttle mission and undercuts a compromise forged last week between the White House and Senate.

The legislation calls for NASA to restructure its exploration program and develop a government-owned transportation system for U.S. astronauts by the end of 2015 ...

The House committee, chaired by Rep. Bart Gordon, D-Tenn., directs NASA to build upon $9 billion already invested in the Constellation program, which the White House proposed terminating in its February budget request for fiscal year 2011.

The Obama administration has claimed that if the government continues to build its own rockets, it effectively kills the commercial industry because the government will have no need to purchase rides on commercial vehicles. The logic seems sound; if the government built its own cars, then a government agency would be unlikely to buy a Ford or Chevy as a staff car.

In any case, both bills will move on to the respective houses' appropriations committees, where the interests are different and many members couldn't care less about which space center gets what pork.

After both houses pass their bills, they go to reconciliation to combine the bills into a final version. The reconciled bill, after final passage by both houses, goes to the President for signature.

So we have a long way to go before seeing what sausage finally comes out of the grinder.

UPDATE July 21, 2010Florida Today reports on the House Science Committee's draft bill and seems to conclude it's a disaster for the Space Coast.

A House committee drafted legislation that would give NASA $19 billion next year, as President Obama has proposed, but with far different spending priorities than the White House and Senate have supported.

There is no additional shuttle flight, funding would be slashed for commercial rockets and NASA would be told to "restructure" the Constellation program that Obama wanted to kill. The bill diverges significantly from a measure approved by a Senate panel last week, which the White House supports ...

"If this goes forward, we're going to remain in . . . purgatory for quite some time," said Dale Ketcham, director of the University of Central Florida's Spaceport Research and Technology Institute. "I think the people who will be most happy here are the Russians, because clearly we'll be relying on them to get to the space station for a long, long time."

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