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Panel approves fiscal 2020 NASA reauthorization bill
A House Science, Space and Technology subcommittee on Wednesday approved a $22.6 billion fiscal 2020 NASA reauthorization bill that would authorize funding to send crews to the moon and Mars.
The panel's Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee advanced the legislation by voice vote. The bill (HR 5666) would reauthorize NASA space initiatives intended to increase U.S. global leadership in the space frontier, including $6 billion for exploration activities and $4.1 billion for space operations.
Much of the discussion centered around ensuring commercial entities are given opportunities to compete to participate in human exploration of deep space, including the current goal of landing more Americans on the moon by 2024, creating a permanent base on the lunar surface and eventually going to Mars and deeper into space.
The bill would specify that the goal of NASA's Moon to Mars program is to land humans on Mars in a sustainable manner "as soon as practicable" and to send a crewed mission to orbit the red planet by 2033. It also would set a new interim goal of sending a crewed mission to the moon by 2028.
Subcommittee chairwoman Kendra Horn, D-Okla., said that while she was pleased about the deep interest by the public and stakeholders in space policy, she wanted to clear up any confusion on the opportunities for commercial entities in the program.
"This bill is not about rejecting the Artemis program delaying humans on the moon until 2028. NASA can still work to safely get there sooner," she said of NASA's lunar exploration program that seeks to land American astronauts on the moon by 2024. "This bill is taking the fiscally responsible approach of focusing the moon efforts on the goal of being the first nation to set foot on Mars."
The bill also would require the NASA administrator to create a Moon to Mars Program Office, within 60 days of its enactment, to lead and manage the program. The measure also would require the agency to maintain U.S. utilization of the International Space Station through at least the end of fiscal 2028.
The panel approved five amendments, individually by voice vote, including one by Alabama Republican Mo Brooks to give the NASA administrator the flexibility to maintain at least two competing integrated crewed landing/ascent system design concepts through the critical design review milestone. At that point, it would require the administrator to select one of the systems for the first human Mars landing mission.
NASA space programs were last reauthorized in 2017 (PL 115-10). In 2018 the full panel approved a two-year reauthorization through fiscal 2019, but it never made it to the House floor for a vote.
Full committee chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Texas, told CQ Roll Call after the markup that she hopes the bill will be taken up by the full panel in a week or two.
The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee approved a fiscal 2020 NASA reauthorization measure (S 2800) in November, which would authorize $121 million more than the House measure.
Colorado Democrat Rep. Ed Perlmutter, who constantly shows off his 2033 Mars bumper sticker and whose district has a substantial interest in science and space issues, says he wasn't worried about the differences between the House and Senate bills. Perlmutter predicted that any concerns will be worked out in a conference-like setting to clear a NASA reauthorization for the president's signature.Content originally published by CQ Roll Call on January 30, 2020.