On Tuesday March 7th, Congress passed a NASA authorization bill for the first time in over six years. By passing the bill, congress approved NASA’s $19.5 billion budget. This means that NASA can use the money to develop efficient strategies for human exploration in space.
The bill that passed in the House of Representatives details NASA’s upcoming plans for activities like developing human space exploration. The bill also discusses NASA’s long-term goal of sending people to Mars and giving NASA the ability to monitor the health of their astronauts.
This NASA authorization bill is the first to pass both houses of Congress since 2010. This may be partly because it had strong support from the White House. The House worked on several authorization bills in the past six years, and some passed the full House, but none of them made it through the Senate.
The passing of the NASA authorization bill follows the approval of the ASA Transition Authorization Act of 2017, S.442 on February 17th when the house unanimously approved the act after a short discussion. During a discussion about the bill on the House floor, Rep. Brian Babin, chairman of the House space subcommittee said, “This bipartisan and bicameral bill grew to maturity through many long and serious discussions about the future of our nation’s space program. I’m encouraged by the bill’s persistent emphasis on the continuity of purpose and stability.”
Chairman of the House Science Committee, Rep. Lamar Smith said in a statement after the bill’s passage, “The NASA Transition Authorization Act of 2017 reaffirms our support for the bold visions and commitments that will shape America’s future in space. This bill reiterates the importance of maintaining NASA’s continuity of purpose to ensure America remains a leader in space exploration.”
The bill was able to be passed because of the amount of work that was done behind the scenes before it was even introduced in the Senate last month. In an interview from January, Smith said that he and Sen. Ted Cruz, the chairman of the Senate space subcommittee, had been working to “pre-conference” the bill in order to resolve any problems before they introduced it. This allowed for it to be easily passed through both Houses.
While the bill was passed unanimously, it doesn’t mean that it is a perfect bill. Some members expressed their concerns that there may be some issues later down the line. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (not pictured), ranking member of the House Science Committee, is critical of the authorized funding levels for NASA’s science, aeronautics and space technology accounts.
Overall, the space industry welcomed the bill with open arms. They feel that it shows the United States and the rest of the world that that our nation is still very much invested in supporting NASA and space exploration.
Mary Lynne Dittmar, the executive director of the Coalition of Deep Space Exploration, said in a March 7 statement: “Today’s approval of the NASA Transition Authorization Act by Congress sends a clear message to the American people and our international partners that our nation remains committed to NASA’s space exploration program.”
Dittmar also spoke in support of the 2010 authorization bill that also provided for human exploration programs. These programs included space science programs like the Space Launch System and Orion. “This new authorization will provide the framework for continued progress towards these national commitments.”
The coolest astronomer around, Neil deGrasse Tyson, explained that boosting NASA’s budget will not only help reinvigorate space exploration in the US, but it will also benefit the nation’s culture, innovation, and economy. In 2012 at the 28th National Space Symposium Tyson said, “Innovation drives economy...It’s especially been true since the Industrial Revolution.”