The draft version of the 2013 NASA Authorization Bill that will be voted upon by Congress says no to the asteroid retrieval mission that President Obama is backing, and yes to a manned return to the moon asap, according to a June 14, 2013 article in Space News.
This indicates a clear change in the course that Congress wants NASA to follow, based upon a reassessment of the space organization’s purpose and why it was originally created.
Though the draft of the bill calls for a cutting of NASA’s budget and holds NASA funding to below $17 billion, which many consider to be inadequate for a return to the moon program, the majority of the cuts come from areas of NASA’s budget which other national organizations deal with — like Earth and climate science research — if you don’t take into account their nixing of President Obama’s asteroid retrieval mission.
The NASA Authorization Bill calls for an increase in authorized funding for the commercial crew program, in robotic planetary missions, and support for the James Webb Space Telescope.
Asteroids won’t be totally ignored in the bill. It does call for a survey to search for approaching asteroids, which indicates that they are concerned about the possibility of one hitting the Earth.
The draft version of the NASA Authorization Bill is currently working its way through the House Science Committee. The Senate has not taken up consideration of the draft of the NASA bill yet.
If the cancellation of the asteroid retrieval mission and an insistence upon returning to the moon make it to the final version of the NASA Authorization Bill, and it gets passed by both houses, Congress will yet again be placed on a collision course with the White House.
Both President Obama and NASA Administrator Charles Bolden oppose the cancellation of the asteroid retrieval mission and a return to the moon, at least in the near future.
Ever since President Obama cancelled the Constellation space exploration program that would have returned American astronauts to the moon by 2020, the Congress and White House have knocked heads with each other over what NASA’s space policy should be.
This legislation reaffirms Congress’s commitment to space exploration, both human and robotic. The draft of the NASA Authorization Bill suggests using a “go-as-we-can-afford-to-pay” strategy toward NASA’s missions. Missions to lunar orbit, the surface of the Moon, and Mars are the goals the bill mentions for NASA’s human spaceflight program, with quadrennial reports for what progress has been made toward those goals.
Near-term goals, the primary objectives for NASA human spaceflight include conducting more research aboard the International Space Station with an Office of Science & Technology Policy-led strategic plan for all science agencies and studying the feasibility of continuing the operational lifespan of the space station beyond 2020.
Other objectives of the bill are a continued commitment to develop the Space Launch System and Orion Crew Vehicle to return to the Moon and beyond, but no funding for an asteroid rendezvous mission.
The NASA Authorization Bill reaffirms that the Orion Crew Vehicle will be a backup system to support the Space Station if necessary.
Also of primary importance in the funding of the bill is building Commercial Crew Systems with NASA funds to launch American astronauts on American rockets from American soil as soon as possible, so we are no longer reliant on Russia.
The draft version of the NASA Authorization Bill says no to President Obama and NASA Administrator Charles Bolden’s plans to have NASA be involved in an asteroid retrieval mission. However, in saying yes to re-directing NASA’s course back towards landing man on the moon again, the bill might be setting the stage for manned exploration to other planets, such as Mars.
Written by: Douglas Cobb