Senate Approves National Aeronautics and Space Administration Authorization Act of 2008

September 25, 2008

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Senate today unanimously approved a substitute amendment to H.R. 6063, a bill to reauthorize the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). The substitute includes agreed upon text that resolves differences between the House bill and the Commerce Committee’s version, S. 3270.

The NASA Authorization Act of 2008 provides a $20.2 billion authorization of appropriations for Fiscal Year (FY) 2009 to fund the various activities of the agency. The authorization includes $1 billion to accelerate the initial operating capability of the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle and the Ares I Crew Launch Vehicle and $100 million for the development and demonstration of a commercial crew vehicle. The total authorization of appropriations is approximately $2.6 billion above the President’s request for FY 2009.

“I am pleased that the Senate passed the NASA reauthorization for 2008, and I look forward to swift passage by the House,” said Commerce Committee Chairman Daniel K. Inouye (D-Hawaii). “Recent international events have made it imperative that we provide NASA with the guidance it needs to successfully transition from the Shuttle program to the new Constellation program. I would like to thank Senator Bill Nelson for his leadership on the Subcommittee on Space, Aeronautics, and Related Sciences, for his dedication to space policy, and for the key role he played in drafting this important legislation.”

The bill reaffirms Congress’s support of the goals of U.S. space exploration, including activities related to Moon missions and Mars exploration, and expresses support for both international cooperation and commercial involvement in space exploration activities. The bill reaffirms support for the goals of Earth science research, including a focus on the future of Earth observation activities and recommendations from the National Academies’ Earth Science decadal survey.

The bill includes a number of provisions related to ensuring that the United States has uninterrupted human access to space. Specifically, the bill provides flexibility to the next Administration regarding the Space Shuttle’s retirement by preventing the Administrator from continuing any activities that would prohibit uninterrupted and safe flight of the Space Shuttle, and requires NASA to provide a report on the impacts of extending the Space Shuttle. The bill expresses support for the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program and directs the Administrator to establish a competition to develop a private sector capability to launch human crew. Recognizing that the Shuttle will eventually be retired, the bill requires the Administrator to establish a Space Shuttle Transition Liaison Office to assist local communities that would be affected by the retirement.

The International Space Station is an important component of the U.S. space program, and in an effort to ensure that the Station’s scientific capabilities are utilized to the maximum extent, the bill requires the agency to develop a plan to support the operations of the Station beyond 2015. The bill requires the Administrator to establish an International Space Station National Laboratory Advisory Committee to assess and recommend scientific research that will make effective use of the Station.  The bill also requires the Administrator to plan an additional Shuttle mission to deliver scientific experiments to the Station.

Aeronautics is an important area of research and a critical component of NASA’s mission. The bill aligns the agency’s aeronautics research with the high-priority challenges described in the National Research Council’s 2006 Decadal Survey of Civil Aeronautics. The bill outlines a series of aeronautics research initiatives related to research and development in environmentally friendly aeronautics technology, supersonic flight and the impact of sonic booms, and aviation weather and climate change research.