House of Representatives pass compromise NASA Authorization Bill

We now interrupt our regularly scheduled esoteric programming to bring you some mainstream NASA stuff.

Yeah, I know, it’s “mainstream” NASA, which hardly brings any inspiration and “Never A Straight Answer” comes to mind.

But you know what? I still love rockets flaming off the launch pads and I had my old NASA picture books stored at my parents house until it burned down in 1993.

So sue me.

Anyway, I’ve been keeping track of this at Space Politics and this is the result:

Update 11:45 pm: The House did pass the bill in a recorded vote by well over the two-thirds margin needed: 304-118.

For about 45 minutes this evening the House debated S. 3729, the NASA authorization bill. Because the bill is taken up under suspension of the rules, the debate was relatively streamlined, with no opportunity for introducing amendments. Most of those speaking, including Reps. Bart Gordon (D-TN), Ralph Hall (R-TX), and Pete Olson (R-TX), were reluctantly in favor of the bill, saying it wasn’t perfect but it was better than none at all. Some of the claims bordered on (or perhaps were fully) hyperbolic: Rep. John Culberson (R-TX) claimed that if the House didn’t pass the bill, President Obama would succeed in shutting down the nation’s human spaceflight program by the end of the year.

A notable exception was Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ), chair of the House Science Committee’s space subcommittee, who spoke “in strong opposition” to the bill, calling it a “bad bill” that the House should vote down. Over the course of about seven minutes she laid out her issues with the bill, ranging from a lack of funding specified for an additional shuttle mission to a heavy-lift launch vehicle “designed by our colleagues” in the Senate as opposed to engineers, to its support of “would be” commercial providers.

The speaker pro tem declared at the end of the debate that the yeas had won the voice vote, but after a bit of an awkward pause, Giffords formally requested a recorded (roll call) vote. That will take place later tonight; perhaps much later, as the House is now moving on to debate the continuing resolution to fund the government after Thursday. The vote will take place tonight, though, as Majority Leader Steny Hoyer announced this evening thatthe House will adjourn after tonight’s votes until November 15th, after the mid-term elections. Note that under suspension of the rules the bill will need a two-thirds majority to pass.

When the Obamanator’$ FY2011 budget came out this past February 1st, there was no heavy lift rocket proposed and Bu$hco’s Project Constellation was going to get the axe. Instead launches to the International Space Station was to be handled by private firms like Boeing, SpaceX, Sierra Nevada Corp. and Orbital Sciences Corporation and robotic missions were going to the Moon and the asteroids

Well, the ensuing months a battle between Obama’s space budget supporters and the entrenched interests in the “space states”; Utah, Alabama, Louisiana, Texas, Florida and Colorado turned into a brawl and wrestling match in a muddy street. It was no holds barred and turned extremely ugly at times. It was also great theater.

The compromise I must admit is a true compromise. It gives a shuttle derived heavy lift launch vehicle back to NASA’s centers in the above listed states to build by 2016 and it gives funding (although reduced) to kick start the commercial space launch industry and returns funding to the defunct technology programs and the robotic precursor interplanetary missions.

But at a starting budget of $19 billion and ending at $19.9 billion in 2013, I seriously doubt that heavy lift rocket will be even off from the drawing board and these robot missions will be even launched. The commercial launches might be launched by then because we need them to work, the political pressure to stop buying the Russian Soyuz transports by an increasingly conservative government will be great.

In the end, the bill is what it is and Mr. Obama will probably sign it into law within another month, end of battle for the time being.

Next is Appropriations by either a lame-duck Congress or a new, possibly more Conservative Congress at the beginning of 2011.

That oughtta be fun, LOL!

The debate over the NASA bill, and its passage

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