A draft version of the Senate NASA Authorization Bill for fiscal year 2011 has emerged. The outlines are pretty much as reported, with both elements of the Obama space plan and Constellation funded. However, the Moon is back on as a destination.
The Obama administration had proposed bypassing the Moon in its version of a space exploration program. The Senate Commerce Committee sharply rebuked that goal, and further suggests that the old Bush policy of expanding human presence in space and using space for economic activities is back on.
In Title II, Section 202 of the Senate NASA bill, the goal of a human presence is explicitly set out:
“(a) LONG-TERM GOAL.-The long-term goal of the human space flight and exploration efforts of NASA shall be to expand permanent human presence beyond low-Earth orbit and to do so, where practical, in a manner involving international partners.”
The closest location where a permanent human presence in space can occur is the lunar surface. Part 2 of subsection (b), which describes what the long term objectives of American expansion into space, further spells out the Moon as an implied destination:
“(2) to determine if humans can live in an extended manner in space with decreasing reliance on Earth, starting with utilization of low-Earth orbit infrastructure, to identify potential roles that space resources such as energy and materials may play, to meet national and global needs and challenges, such as potential cataclysmic threats, and to explore the viability of and lay the foundation for sustainable economic activities in space;”
Just to show the Obama administration that the Senate is serious about expanding human presence into space and that the Moon is a destination for that goal, Title III of the bill is devoted to that objective:
“(a) FINDINGS.-Congress makes the following findings: (1) The extension of the human presence from low-Earth orbit to other regions of space beyond low-Earth orbit will enable missions to the surface of the moon and missions to deep space destinations such as near-Earth asteroids and Mars.” Emphasis mine.
The Senate NASA bill goes further:
“(3) The ability to support human missions in regions beyond low-Earth orbit and on the surface of the moon can also drive developments in emerging areas of space infrastructure and technology.
“(4) Developments in space infrastructure and technology can stimulate and enable increased space applications, such as in-space servicing, propellant resupply and transfer, and in-situ resource utilization, and opportunities for additional users of space, whether national, commercial, or international.”
There is also verbiage on Mars being the “ultimate destination” for human space exploration. The Senate NASA bill also calls for yet another study to be done in 2012 concerning long term space goals, employing input from a wide variety of disciplines. That last, by the way, is a heavy rebuke of the Augustine Committee, which had done such a study and was used, partly, as a basis for the Obama space plan.
The Senate NASA Authorization Bill has something for everyone to like, and something for everyone to hate. The commercial space initiative from the Obama space plan is funded, but stretched out to six years instead of five. The deep space exploration technology program is gutted, with only a minimal amount of money authorized.
On the other hand, key elements, such as a heavy lift vehicle using shuttle-derived technology that can be scaled up, as well as the Orion space craft, are preserved. However, that program, which some are calling “Constellation Light”, seems underfunded for an initial operational capacity in 2016. And, even though the Moon is back on as a destination, no provision is made for the funding of a lunar lander or a lunar habitat.
All that the Senate Commerce Committee wants to do could likely be better accomplished with a $22-24 billion NASA than a $19 billion NASA. But, the Senate seems disposed to keep inside the budget number President Obama proposed. Any higher numbers will have to wait until the next President, more than likely.
Senate NASA Authorization Bill for FY 2011, Staff Working Draft