“We are building consensus in what has otherwise been a consensus-less position of the future of the manned space program.” - Senator Bill Nelson
Tomorrow the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation will meet in an executive session to mark up a 99-page NASA reauthorization bill that will be introduced by Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL). Nelson chairs the committee’s Subcommittee on Science and Space, and is a key player in how Congress will respond to the Administration’s proposed space exploration policy. Said Nelson: “I believe what we will have is the essence of the President's proposal.”
Nelson previewed the bill in comments on the Senate floor on Monday. His full remarks regarding the draft bill follow:
“We are building consensus in what has otherwise been a consensus-less position of the future of the manned space program. The President had proposed one thing. He altered that. Different people have different ideas. Different aerospace companies all looking to have a certain part of the manned space program also have their different ideas.
“Out of this mix, we are trying to bring together Senators to build a consensus in a bipartisan way; the space program is not only not partisan, it is not even bipartisan. It is nonpartisan – to be able to do this in a fairly unanimous way.
“I am happy to report to the Senate that I think we are getting there. I believe what we will have is the essence of the President's proposal. It will still have the continuation of the President's proposal for competition among commercial space companies to deliver not only cargo to the International Space Station, of which the President recommended, and we will certainly authorize extending the life of the space station to 2020, something on which we have spent $100 billion. It did not make sense, as was proposed before, to cut it out in 2015, something we spent that much money on and are just now completing its construction. These commercial companies would, in this authorization bill, have the direction as to how they go about man rating their systems in order to have the safety, when you strap human beings on to rockets that defy the laws of gravity, to take a human being into low-Earth orbit to rendezvous and dock with the space station and to return safely. That is one thing.
“The next thing on which we are building a consensus is to accelerate the development of a heavy-lift vehicle. The President said no later than 2015. We are going to authorize NASA to start in 2011 and to take a lot of the existing technology and build upon that, make it evolvable with a heavy-lift vehicle that would be in the range of 75 metric tons in order to get space assets in the low-Earth orbit to ultimately fulfill the President's goal as stated in his speech to the Kennedy Space Center, which was to go to Mars by a flexible path. His specific timeline was to rendezvous and land on an asteroid by 2025. We accelerate the development of the heavy-lift vehicle.
“Because the hardware is there and ready, will be on the pad, we are going to authorize an additional flight of the space shuttle. This is the shuttle that they call the ‘launch on need.’ It is a second space shuttle that is on the pad for the remaining two, in case they get into trouble. It becomes a rescue shuttle to get the marooned astronauts, were that to be the case.
“The fact is, they are doing so well now, and now that we are going to and from the space station on these final two missions, the likelihood of anything happening is de minimis and, therefore, we are going to authorize the flying of that last shuttle, the launch on need, because we believe there is a minimal risk. If something did happen on ascent - such as a piece of foam coming off and hitting the wing and knocking a hole in it, which was the cause of the destruction of the Space Shuttle Columbia back in 2003 - then the astronauts would be able to take safe harbor in the International Space Station, and they would then be able to be returned to Earth by other vehicles, such as the Russian Soyuz, which is a permanent lifeboat that is attached - two of them - to the International Space Station.
“We will continue in this authorization bill a robust research and development program. We will continue the President's recommendations for his science budget, for his aeronautics budget of NASA, and all of this will be within the amount of money the President has proposed.
“This NASA authorization bill will be for three years. We are expecting that we will be able to take this up this Thursday and to pass it out of the full Commerce Committee.
“We, of course, in respect to the appropriations process, have been in close consultation with our colleagues on the Appropriations Committee. How the authorization committee and the Appropriations Committee worked together has been a good example of considerable cooperation.”