NASA Reauthorization Offers Chance To Debate Space Program

By Frank Morring, Jr.
Source: Aviation Week & Space Technology

Section 213 of the House draft requires NASA to set “contingencies” for developing commercial crew vehicles if sequestration extends into fiscal 2014, directing NASA to say how it would manage the work with appropriations of $500 million, $600 million, $700 million and $800 million “over three years.”

Gerstenmaier testified that without about $800 million per year, the commercial partners working on commercial crew—Boeing, Sierra Nevada Corp. and SpaceX—will not be able to fly by the end of 2017, as planned. To tighten the noose, the House bill would set that as a deadline and require the agency to develop a strategy to ensure that at least one of the companies crosses the finish line before time is up.

Nelson worries Congress will end up trying to throw together spending, tax and other important legislation at the last minute after a year of partisan posturing. But there is an alternative—an up-front debate of what the U.S. should be doing in space, and how much the nation is willing to spend on it. If Tom Young is right about the choice facing Congress and the White House, the cramped interior of the International Space Station may be as far as we go for the foreseeable future. That would be a shame.

Ed Lu, the astronaut practicing on the station's keyboard in this shot of the Destiny lab module, epitomizes what would be lost if the U.S. government pulls up short of the wide-open heavens. Lu now runs the B612 Foundation, which is raising funds for a space telescope to spot asteroids that might threaten Earth. His choice illustrates the strong pull of deep space and the value of continuing to probe it. Maybe the politicians and the budget wonks will follow Lu's example this year.

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