Obama Signs NASA Reauthorization Bill

The bill appropriates $19 billion for the space agency in 2011 and adds another shuttle flight before the program ends.
President Obama on Monday is expected to sign a bill reauthorizing $58.4 billion in funding for NASA. Congress passed the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Authorization Act of 2010 (S. 3729) bill last month, an appropriations measure that supports NASA's agenda through fiscal years 2011 to 2013.

Specifically, the bill appropriates $19 billion for 2011; $19.45 billion for 2012; and $19.96 billion for 2013, and lays out a plan for the next several years of the agency. Activities the act funds include the development of a heavy-lift launch vehicle to be developed by 2016 and a crew chosen to support it as a follow-up to the space shuttle program. This is an acceleration of plans already in place to develop the rocket.

The space shuttle was scheduled for its final mission later this year, but the bill adds another flight in February 2011 before ending the program.

Additionally, the NASA Authorization Act supports human spaceflight activities aimed at fostering global initiatives as well as exploring deeper into space beyond low-earth orbit, eventually to the planet Mars. The act also extends the International Space Station program to 2020.

Beyond human space flight and exploration, the act stipulates funding for a diverse range of other activities, including aeronautics research and development and scientific research that turns NASA's focus away from space toward Earth.

Indeed, NASA is in a transitional phase, moving slightly away from traditional space exploration to missions that involved more earthbound goals like using space technology for climate-change research, hurricane-tracking and earthquake observations as well as other activities.

In a press statement released when the bill was passed, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said the funds will help the agency through the transition and will help the agency better support American industry.

"The President has laid out an ambitious new plan for NASA that pioneers new frontiers of innovation and discovery," he said. "This important change in direction will not only help us chart a new path in space, but can help us retool for the industries and jobs of the future that will be vital for long term economic growth."

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