Senate wants NASA to follow all of the law

The theme of Wednesday’s hearing by the Senate Commerce Committee was a desire by committee members to ensure that NASA enacts all aspects of the recently-passed NASA Authorization Act, and not simply the portions it likes. Sens. Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) repeated asked presidential science advisor John Holdren and NASA CFO Beth Robinson if they planned to carry out the law, leading Holdren at one point to state, “We are going to follow the law. I can’t emphasize that enough.” Apparently he couldn’t emphasize it enough, given the number of times he was asked.

Of particular concern was NASA’s work–or lack thereof–on two key elements of the authorization act, the Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (effectively a continuation of Orion) and Space Launch System heavy-lift launcher. Nelson, Space News reported, went so far as to claim “certain people within the administration” sought to block the bill’s passage and now are trying to delay implementation of its elements. Part of that delay, Robinson said, was that the agency was operating under a continuing resolution (CR) and the restrictions contained in it, and had to go though a methodical process of comparing the CR requirements with the provisions in the authorization bill, something it had not yet completed for the Orion or heavy-lift programs.

Going into the hearing some hoped, as in this Florida Today editorial, that Nelson in particular would use the hearing to push to fund NASA at the authorized level of $19 billion. Instead, though, he argued that in the event NASA gets funded at the 2010 level of $18.7 billion (through the use of a year-long CR), it should not stop the agency from implementing most programs in the authorization act. “We want to see this law implemented without a lot of griping and moaning and groaning if we’re able to get that kind of appropriation,” he said. In particular, Robinson assured the committee that NASA would be able to carry out the additional shuttle mission included in the act should the agency get funded at that level.

Nelson was less pleased, though, to find out how NASA would handle the roughly $276-million difference between the FY10 funding level and the authorized FY11 level. Robinson said that the money would most likely come from the “21st century spaceport initiative” to upgrade facilities at KSC, authorized for $429 million in FY11. That response, the Orlando Sentinel reported, led Nelson to call NASA administrator Charles Bolden after the hearing and get assurances that any money cut from the program in FY11 would be made up in future years.


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