Congress backs Obama plan on NASA's future

WASHINGTON The bill passed by the House on a 304-118 vote brings major changes to NASA's space agenda: It dismantles the Constellation program under which former President George W. Bush sought to return astronauts to the moon, and extends the life of the International Space Station from 2015 to 2020. The Senate passed the measure last month.

The bill relies mainly on the still-nascent commercial space industry to transport astronauts to the space station over the next five years. But in a nod to lawmakers concerned about NASA employees being laid off, it also continues to fund the shuttle program through the end of the current budget year a year from now. That would allow one last space shuttle mission following the mission planned for February.

NASA administrator Charles Bolden Jr. said the bill, which approves more than $58 billion in spending over the next three years, would foster the president's goals of extending the life of the space station, launching a commercial space transportation industry, fostering new technology and creating thousands of new jobs.

Obama, in pushing for the end of the Constellation program, said it was implausible under current budget restraints and that NASA was siphoning off funds from other programs. He told NASA workers at Cape Canaveral, Fla., in April that he was committed to manned space flight and envisioned sending astronauts to near-Earth asteroids in the near future as a prelude to trips to Mars in the coming decades.

His plan met resistance from the space industry, former astronauts and lawmakers who said it was risky to put too much reliance on commercial flights while NASA develops a next-generation heavy-lift rocket to carry people to those asteroids and Mars.

The compromise bill approved by the Senate last month goes along with most of Obama's goals while extending the life of the shuttle and directing NASA to move immediately to develop the next heavy launch vehicle.

The chairman of the House Science and Technology Committee, Rep. Bart Gordon, D-Tenn., said he was accepting the Senate version to ensure stability and clarity to the NASA workforce, but he had several concerns, including the cost of extending the shuttle program and the lack of a timetable for a government backup capability to commercial flights.

He said he would continue to press his views as the House determines actual spending levels for the 2011 fiscal year that begins Friday.

Statement from Rep. Pete Olson on the passage

Today Rep. Pete Olson issued the following statement in strong support of House passage of S. 3729 - National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Authorization Act of 2010.

"The men and women who work for NASA and the Johnson Space Center have worked for too long under a cloud of uncertainty as a result of insufficient funds, constantly changing goals and a government that has too often second-guessed the past instead of embracing a clear vision for the future. Today, I am pleased that Congress provided much needed certainty by passing this important NASA authorization bill.

"This moment would not have been possible without the strong, bipartisan commitment to NASA that exists in the House. It is an honor to be part of bipartisanship at its best on behalf of America. I also applaud the efforts and commitment of Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison in getting an authorization bill through Congress.

"The people who work at the Johnson Space Center and throughout NASA deserve the certainty that this bill helps provide, and America deserves to know that Congress is still committed to human space exploration. While I agree with many who voted against the Senate bill that the House version was stronger for Human space flight, it was important to do what was right for NASA.

"I grew up in Clear Lake. The men who walked on the moon and those who got them there and back were my neighbors. I saw a community and a nation unite around a grand goal and accomplish it. Today, we take a step toward restoring those goals worthy of a great nation. And in doing so we are saying to the men and women of NASA, currently and those to come, that this nation still chooses to explore."

Statement from John Cornyn on the passage

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, today issued this statement following successful passage of the NASA Authorization Act of 2010 by the U.S. House of Representatives:

"I applaud the House of Representatives for passage of the NASA Authorization Act of 2010. Thanks to the efforts of Senator Hutchison and Congressmen Hall, Olson, and other Members of our Texas delegation, we have helped provide direction to NASA and renewed our commitment to retaining a robust human space program.

"The actions of this Administration have left NASA and the men and women who work there in limbo, questioning our nation's level of commitment to their mission and their job security. While this bill isn't a complete fix, it is a strong step in the right direction, and I will continue to work to ensure that an ambitious human spaceflight program represents our nation's future, and not merely its past."

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