Congress Supports Science And Aeronautics


July 2008

Congress Supports Science
And Aeronautics


The NASA Authorization Act of 2008 (H.R. 6063) has moved through committee at light-speed, belying Congress's reputation for operating at a glacial pace. Rep. Mark Udall (D-CO) introduced the measure, the first attempt at NASA reauthorization since Democrats took control of Congress nearly two years ago. Reps. Tom Feeney (R-FL), Bart Gordon (D-TN), and Ralph Hall (D-TX) cosponsored the bill, which would clear the way for funding to be appropriated to NASA in FY09.
The bill was referred to the House Committee on Science and Technology, and from there, to the Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics where it was marked up and reported to the full committee five days later. A voice-vote approved the bill for full-committee consideration the same day. The committee was expected to take action on the bill in June.

The reauthorization would provide for $19.2 billion in baseline funding, $1.6 billion more than the president's request. (See chart for breakdown.) Rep. Charlie Melancon (D-LA), who serves on the Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee, said that the bill represents only an inflationary increase over NASA's last authorization.

Unlike the last NASA reauthorization, a two-year bill that funded broad mission categories, the FY09 bill would place tighter restrictions on how the funding could be spent. The bill seeks to ensure that NASA focuses on science and aeronautics, areas Democrats feel have been hurt as funds have been diverted to the agency's exploration goals. Specifically, the bill would require NASA to establish a long-term R&D program "not tied to specific flight goals," which would receive no less than 10 percent of the total exploration budget. The program also would aim to distribute at least half of its funding to universities, research institutions, and industry through grants and contracts.
NASA Administrator Michael Griffin, P.E., wrote in his introductory message to the agency's FY09 budget request document that "NASA's Mission is to pioneer the future in space exploration, scientific discovery, and aeronautics research." The reauthorization measure would continue Bush Administration plans to retire the space shuttle fleet by 2010 and would provide for $1 billion to accelerate development of replacement spacecraft.

The bill would also require NASA to ensure that the International Space Station remains "viable and productive" through 2020 by prioritizing space station research and devising a contingency plan for keeping the station viable during the expected three-year gap between the retirement of the current shuttle fleet and its replacement by new spacecraft. Lawmakers have expressed concern about this gap, during which time the U.S. would have to rely on Russia to fly astronauts to and from the International Space Station, citing safety and reliability concerns about Russia's Soyuz reentry capsule.

The reauthorization measure addresses streamlining the research, development, and deployment of new technologies, requiring NASA to create a research program in coordination with other agencies to improve the certification process for new technologies to be introduced into the national airspace system. NASA would further be required to establish a long-term technology development program for space and earth science with the Science Mission Directorate.
Additionally, the bill would authorize the Office of Science and Technology Policy to develop a plan for restarting and sustaining domestic production of radioisotope thermoelectric generator material for deep space and other space science missions and would authorize $5 million for the production of this material. The measure would also authorize $50 million for a Phase 1 Commercial Orbital Transportation Services crewed vehicle demonstration program.

The bill also addresses environmental issues, requiring NASA to establish a research, development, and demonstration initiative that would facilitate commercial aircraft performance characteristics such as considerable noise reduction near airports and a significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. NASA would also be required to create, in coordination with other agencies, a research initiative to assess the impact of aviation on climate and, if needed, to evaluate ways to mitigate the impact.

The next step for the bill is a mark-up by the full Science and Technology Committee, followed by floor action. The Senate has not yet introduced comparative legislation.

FY09 NASA Authorizations

President's Budget Request

Authorization Bill


$4.4 billion

$4.9 billion

Earth Science

$1.4 billion

$1.5 billion

Planetary Science

$1.3 billion

$1.5 billion


$1.2 billion

$1.3 billion


$577 million

$641 million


$447 million

$853 million


$3.5 billion

$3.9 billion


$116 million

$128 million

Space Operations

$5.8 billion

$6.1 billion

Support Programs

$3.3 billion

$3.3 billion

Inspector General

$35.5 million

$35.5 million