Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Day the Space Station Was Almost Cancelled

Click the arrow to watch the Space Station debate on YouTube. Video source: C-SPAN.

June 23, 1993.

A date that almost lived in infamy.

On that date, the House of Representatives came within one vote of cancelling Space Station Freedom, which later became today's International Space Station.

The proposal was defeated, 215-216 with nine members not voting.

The House was deliberating the NASA Authorization Bill for Fiscal Year 1994. (Yes, unlike today, NASA budgets actually passed before the fiscal year began.) Rep. Tim Roemer, a Democrat from Indiana, rose to propose an amendment to the bill that would cancel the space station. He was supported across the aisle by Rep. Dick Zimmer, a Republican from New Jersey.

After more than three hours of deliberation, the House voted. The acting chair judged that the majority of the voice vote was Nay, but Roemer asked for a recorded vote.

As the voting period drew to a close, the tally board showed Aye winning by a slight margin. If you watch the end of the above video, you can see the House members riveted as they watch the board and realize that the space station was close to cancellation. The final votes saved the station.

Even if the bill had passed the House, it still would have to pass the Senate and then go on to the President for signature. We can only speculate what might have happened.

The video is a reminder that since the mid-1960s Congressional support for a government space program has been tepid at best. That's unlikely to change any time soon.

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