Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Committee Passes Bill To Reauthorize NASA Programs

Committee Passes Bill To Reauthorize NASA Programs
Dr. Gingrey Offers Amendments to Allow NASA to Utilize Alternative Fuels

Today, the Science and Technology Committee unanimously passed H.R. 6063, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Authorization Act of 2008, authorizing programs at NASA for fiscal year 2009.

“H.R. 6063 is a one year bill that demonstrates Congress’ commitment to maintain a strong and vital space program and will serve as a signal to a new Administration that NASA has deep support within Congress,” said Ranking Member Ralph Hall (R-TX). “Once the Shuttle is retired at the end of this decade, our country will have to buy seats from the Russians – for as long as five years – to assure a U.S. presence on the International Space Station. Our payments for rides on their Soyuz spacecraft have not yet been negotiated, but it will be expensive, and sadly, we’ll be making these purchases at a time when NASA will be laying off thousands of engineers and technicians from the Shuttle program.”

Hall continued, “In an effort to minimize our reliance on the Russians, this bill authorizes an additional $1 billion to speed up development of the new Constellation system. This additional investment is more than justified.”

While Members on both sides of the aisle strongly supported the underlying bipartisan bill, Republicans at the markup stressed that contrary to section 526 of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, NASA should be allowed to purchase alternative fuels to power its fleet. Dr. Phil Gingrey (R-GA), Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Technology and Innovation, offered two amendments that the Chairman ruled as non-germane.

One amendment aimed to give the NASA Administrator the flexibility and discretion to purchase alternative fuels, derived from unconventional sources, such as coal-to-liquids, oil shale, and biofuels. It also sought to exempt NASA from a controversial section of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 that prohibits federal agencies from purchasing unconventional fuel sources, if those sources produce more emissions than their conventional counterparts.

“NASA has historically been on the cutting edge of innovation with numerous contributions to the technologies that we use on a daily basis in the United States,” Gingrey said. “Currently, NASA is partnering with the Air Force and is already aggressively conducting research to convert domestic energy sources – coal, natural gas, biomass, and oil shale – into cleaner and more economical alternatives to traditional jet fuel.” He continued, “However, as gas prices continue to rise, and at a time when we could best utilize the research of emerging technologies for alternative fuels, with Section 526 the Democratic Majority has effectively stymied innovation at NASA that could potentially help us reduce our dependence on foreign oil.”

Republicans at the markup spoke in favor of the amendments, stressing how this provision strictly limits an agency, such as NASA, that purchases millions of dollars worth of jet fuel every year. Further, NASA is currently engaged in groundbreaking research on many of the fuels that this section prohibits any federal agency from purchasing.

Dr. Vernon Ehlers (R-MI), Ranking Member of the Research and Science Education Subcommittee, highlighted the fact that the type of fuel NASA chooses to use is a technical decision that shouldn’t be limited by a law that restricts the discretion of the agency. Ehlers noted that decisions on the type of fuel used in rockets is based on the energy density of the fuel and shouldn’t be restricted by emissions calculations.

H.R. 6063 authorizes $20.21 billion in funding for NASA in FY09, which includes $1 billion in additional funding to accelerate development of the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV) and Ares I Crew Launch Vehicle (CLV). The Constellation system, which includes development of both the CEV and CLV, will provide our country with a modern, more robust, and safer manned spaceflight capability that will enable U.S. astronauts to fly beyond Low Earth orbit, an ability NASA has not had since the retirement of Apollo over 30 years ago. The bill also provides for a balanced set of programs in human spaceflight and exploration, aeronautics research and development, and space science research.

H.R. 6063 also directs NASA to include two so-called contingency missions to the International Space Station to be part of the baseline shuttle flight manifest, and adds an additional flight to deliver the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer to the International Space Station. The bill also includes provisions related to detecting asteroids and comets that threaten to collide with Earth, education, and commercial space initiatives.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the establishment of NASA and the dawn of the United States space program. The NASA Authorization Act of 2005 provided policy and programmatic guidance for NASA, and the bill passed today reaffirms congressional priorities and policies.

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