NASA Reauthorization Act: Overview, Earth Science, and Space Science

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Publication date: 
6 October 2010

S. 3729, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Act of 2010, has been passed by Congress and sent to the President.  This bill authorizes $58.4 billion for various NASA programs in FY 2011 (this year),  FY 2012 and FY 2013.  NASA’s FY 2011 funding will be provided by an appropriations measure that will be acted on by Congress after it returns in November.

Accompanying the bill is a 22-page report that was prepared in August by the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.  It provides an explanation of the legislation’s provisions and contains many important policy directions for NASA in the next three years.

Below are the complete selections of Senate Report 111-278 regarding the general provisions of the bill, Earth Science, and Space Science.


The legislation would provide an authorization of appropriations for NASA for fiscal years 2011 through 2013 at $19 billion, $19.45 billion, and $19.96 billion, respectively. The legislation would provide for a balanced set of programs in human space flight and exploration, aeronautics research and development, and scientific research, including Earth observations and applications, and require a decadal-like survey to review the goals, capabilities, and direction of U.S. human exploration of space. It would establish an overall goal for human space flight to expand permanent human presence beyond low-Earth orbit, along with a number of related key objectives. It also would provide that human space flight activities should contribute to national and global needs and challenges.

The bill would initiate steps to develop a Space Launch System and a multi-purpose crew vehicle as a follow-on to the Space Shuttle and Constellation-based Ares I and Orion projects. In combination with appropriate new technologies and robotic elements, these fundamental capabilities would support initial exploration missions beyond low-Earth orbit to such destinations as lunar orbital and Lagrangian points. These capabilities would provide the foundation for pursuit of international and other collaborative activities in the conduct of these and potential follow-on missions to the lunar surface and deep-space destinations, such as asteroids and ultimately the surface of Mars.

To implement these capabilities, the bill would direct development of a heavy-lift launch vehicle to be initiated immediately upon enactment with a 2016 goal for core operational capabilities. The bill would stipulate the continued development of a multi-purpose crew vehicle capable of supporting missions beyond low-Earth orbit with a 2016 goal for full operational capabilities. Taken together, these elements would provide a government-owned and operated capability to support exploration missions and activities beyond low-Earth orbit, and crew and cargo delivery to the ISS [International Space Station] as a backup, if necessary, to commercially developed means of fulfilling the ISS supporting missions. The Space Launch System and multi-purpose crew vehicle would be carried out within a performance and cost framework that focuses on maximum use of the workforce, assets, contracts, and capabilities of the Space Shuttle, Constellation, and other NASA programs.

The bill would continue commercial cargo development and expand the Commercial Crew Development Program in FY 2011. The initiation of formal procurement for commercial crew development would be expected to begin in FY 2012, contingent upon the outcome of a series of studies and reviews to ensure effective implementation, direction, and oversight.

The bill would support continuation and full utilization of the ISS until at least 2020, including a requirement to select an independent entity to manage the ISS national laboratory, the addition of a Space Shuttle flight in FY 2011 to help ensure the availability of spare and replacement parts for full ISS functionality, and an authorization of funding to help expedite development of commercial cargo transportation services already under development.

While establishing a renewed commitment to development of a sustainable and successful human space flight capability, the legislation would direct the establishment and sustainment of a balanced portfolio for NASA across all of its mission areas, including aeronautics, Earth and space science, and education. It would require improved interagency coordination of Earth observations, expansion of NASA's sub-orbital research activities, and the establishment of a national policy to guide NASA's space technology efforts. Since the aerospace industry is one of the few remaining manufacturing industries that continues to be a major U.S. exporter, the bill would maintain support for a strong aeronautics research portfolio ranging from fundamental research through systems research.

The bill would address the fundamental need to ensure the nation's competitiveness and technological excellence by supporting new education initiatives, such as teacher training programs, increased investments in NASA EPSCoR (Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research) and the NASA Space Grant program. To fit current and future missions and expected funding levels, the bill would require NASA to examine alternative management models for NASA's workforce, centers, and capabilities, while enforcing short-term prohibitions on major center displacements and reductions-in-force until such examination and analysis is completed.

The report also provides guidance for different programs.  The sections regarding Earth Science and Space Science follow:


Section 701. Sense of Congress.     This section would emphasize the importance of Earth observations to the understanding of the Earth system, the protection of human health and safety, the growth of the U.S. economy, and the strengthening of national security. This section also would reaffirm the critical role of NASA in Earth science, the need to maintain domestic and international data collaboration, and the vital role fulfilled by Earth-observing satellites and monitoring programs.

Section 702. Interagency collaboration implementation approach.     This section would require the Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy to establish a mechanism to ensure greater coordination across the Federal Government on civilian Earth observation. This would include the development of a strategic implementation plan updated at least every 3 years with independent advisory input. This section also would require the Director to provide to Congress within 90 days of enactment a report on the implementation plan for this mechanism.

Section 703. Transitioning experimental research to operations.     This section would require the Administrator, in coordination with the Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Director of the United States Geological Survey (USGS), to establish a formal mechanism to support the transition of NASA research and capabilities to NOAA and USGS operations. This section would encourage NASA to consider establishing an Interagency Transition Office for this purpose and would require NASA to provide within 90 days of enactment an implementation plan for this mechanism.

Section 704. Decadal survey missions implementation for Earth observation.     This section would require the Administrator to implement, as appropriate, missions identified in the Earth Science Decadal Survey within the scope of funds authorized for the Science Mission Directorate.

Section 705. Expansion of Earth science applications.     This section would support an expanded role for NASA in Earth science applications with all levels of government, academia, the private sector, nonprofit organizations, and international partners.

Section 706. Instrument test-beds and venture class missions.     This section would require the Administrator to pursue innovative ways to fly instrument-level payloads for early demonstration or as co-manifested payloads.

Section 707. Sense of Congress on NPOESS follow-on program.     This section would affirm that polar orbiting satellites are vital for weather prediction, climate and environmental monitoring, national security, emergency response, and climate research. The section would support the Office of Science and Technology Policy's decision to restructure the National Polar Orbiting Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS) program, suggest that NOAA and the Department of Defense should assure satellite data continuity, and indicate that the agencies should immediately notify Congress of any impediments to meet launch readiness dates.


Section 801. Technology development.     This section would ensure that the Science Mission Directorate maintains a long-term technology development program for space and Earth science that is coordinated with overall agency technology investments in the other NASA mission directorates.

Section 802. Suborbital research activities.     This section would direct the Administrator to establish a Suborbital Research Program to be overseen by a designated official in the Science Mission Directorate. The designated official would develop strategic plans to maintain, renew, and extend suborbital capabilities and integrate them into NASA's workforce development. The program would advance science and develop the aerospace workforce. The section also would require the Administrator to report annually to Congress on the number of suborbital missions and the number of undergraduate and graduate students participating in each mission. The section would authorize such sums as may be necessary for these activities.

Section 803. Overall science portfolio-sense of the Congress.     This section would reaffirm the sense of Congress that a balanced and adequately funded portfolio of research, space missions, and suborbital missions serves as a catalyst for innovation.

Section 804. In-space servicing.     This section would direct the Administrator to ensure the development of in-space human servicing and repair capabilities for future observatory-class scientific spacecrafts to the extent practicable and appropriate. The Committee believes that this capability complements the bill's focus on the development of a human space flight approach that leverages on-orbit capabilities and a space launch and crew vehicle with additional complementary capabilities.

Section 805. Decadal results.     This section would direct NASA to take into account recommendations from the National Academies' decadal surveys when submitting their budget request.

Section 806. On-going restoration of radioisotope thermoelectric generator material production.     This section would require the Administrator to coordinate with the Secretary of Energy to restart and sustain domestic production of radioisotope thermoelectric generator material for deep space and other science and exploration missions. This section also would provide that funds authorized by this Act for NASA would be available under a reimbursable agreement with the Department of Energy for the purpose of this section. A report would be required within 120 days after enactment to Congress regarding the plan and schedule for this production.

Section 807. Collaboration with ESMD and SOMD on robotic missions.     This section would direct the Exploration Systems and Space Operations Mission Directorates to coordinate with the Science Mission Directorate to develop a plan for interagency and international collaboration for future robotic missions. The section would require NASA to provide a report within 90 days and would prohibit the cancellation or initiation of any ESMD or SMD robotic project before the report is submitted.

Section 808. Near-Earth object survey and policy with respect to threats posed.     This section would require the Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy to implement a policy by FY 2012 for notifying Federal agencies and emergency response institutions of any impending near-Earth object threats and for assigning a Federal agency to be responsible for protecting the United States and working with the international community in response to such threats.

Section 809. Space weather.     This section would require the Office of Science and Technology Policy to improve preparation, avoidance, and mitigation of severe space weather events, coordinate across agencies, and submit a report to Congress within 180 days of the date of enactment that details current and future systems necessary to gather data for space weather forecasting.

The entire report and the text of S. 3729 can be viewed here.

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