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NASA Authorization Advanced by House Panel

The House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Space approved legislation to reauthorize NASA for two years, calling for $16.9 billion annually for the agency.

The draft bill, advanced 11-9, would authorize $2.1 billion less than the agency received in its last authorization and $800 million less than President Barack Obama requested for fiscal 2014.

Ranking Democrat Donna Edwards of Maryland described NASA as “our nation’s crown jewel,” and expressed concern that the proposed decreases would affect the ability of NASA to carry out its missions safely.

“I am afraid we are setting NASA up to fail,” she said.

Edwards offered a substitute amendment with higher authorization levels that other Democrats supported, but it was rejected 9-12.

Subcommittee Chairman Steven M. Palazzo, R-Miss., said the pressures of sequestration and caps set by the 2011 budget control law (PL 112-25) required that the agency do more with less.

“In the current fiscal environment, we must do the best we can with the hand we are dealt,” he said.

Much of the decrease would come from cuts to NASA’s Earth science program. The bill would authorize $1.2 billion for the program annually, a decrease of $600 million from the previous authorization in fiscal 2010.

Palazzo said over the past five years “the Earth science program has grown by over 40 percent at the expense of other critical missions.” The increase was largely caused by the inclusion of climate science within the Earth science program, he said, adding that although 13 federal agencies fund climate research, only NASA is responsible for space science and exploration.

“NASA’s Earth science program is more than just climate change,” Palazzo said. “This bill allows NASA to focus on its core mission.”

Programmatic Funding

The measure would authorize $2.9 billion for the International Space Station, $1.8 billion for the Space Launch System, which will replace the retired space shuttles, $1.2 billion for the Orion Multipurpose Crew Vehicle, and $700 million for the Commercial Crew program annually.

It would meet spending caps under the budget control law, but it includes a provision to increase authorizations for the International Space Station, the Space Launch System, Commercial Crew development activities and the Orion crew capsule if the current caps are raised.

Asteroid Program, Other Provisions

The bill would bar the use of authorized funds for the development of an asteroid retrieval program sought by the Obama administration. Palazzo said the Asteroid Retrieval Mission funding “has not been through any type of mission formulation review.” The bill would prohibit NASA from working on the project until it provides a report on the proposal to Congress, he said.

To provide additional oversight of the agency’s budget, the bill would establish a NASA advisory council to review the administration’s request and the agency’s funding levels and report its findings to the president and Congress.

Additionally, the bill would establish a six-year term for the NASA administrator, and it describes the goals of the agency’s human spaceflight programs as lunar orbit and missions to the surfaces of the moon and Mars.

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