Senate Committee Approves NASA Plan

The $19 billion bill authorizes private rockets for space travel and shifts focus from space exploration toward using space technology on environmental, geological, climate and other issues.

Elizabeth Montalbano, Contributor

July 16, 2010

2 Min Read

The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation has approved a hotly debated $19 billion bill for NASA that for the first time authorizes private rockets to be used for space travel.

The NASA Authorization Act of 2010 is mostly in line with President Obama's plan for NASA's budget and future direction to shift in focus away from space exploration and more toward using space technology to focus on environmental, geological, climate and other issues on Earth.

The administration has requested and the bill supports a budget of $19 billion for NASA in 2011, $19.45 billion in 2012 and $19.96 billion in 2013.

"NASA is an agency in transition," Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), said in a statement about the bill's passage. "We've had to take a clear, hard look at what we want from our space agency in the years and decades to come. I've made my views on this matter very clear: NASA's role cannot stay static. It must innovate and move in a new direction."

The legislation cuts the agency's moon program and sounds the official death knell for the space shuttle program, a move that has been expected. It authorizes one last shuttle flight to provide support to the International Space Station, the life of which it extends until 2020.

The bill's funding for commercial companies to build spacecraft -- which historically have been the sole domain of NASA -- has sparked much bipartisan debate. The idea behind the change is to support the development of rockets that can travel further into space than ones NASA has developed to date.

The bill likely will encounter changes from other committee debate before it is up for final passage by the Senate.

NASA's expanded mission is supported by other components of the bill. It supports new education initiatives -- such as teacher training programs -- to support the creation of a more skilled U.S. workforce in the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

It also increases investment in NASA's EPSCoR (Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research) and Space Grant programs.

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