NASA Programs (10-4-05)

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The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was established by the National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958 to conduct space and aeronautical research, development, and flight activities for peaceful purposes designed to maintain United States preeminence in aeronautics and space. In January, 2004, President Bush announced A Renewed Spirit of Discovery: The President’s Vision for U.S. Space Exploration. The centerpiece of this new directive was a committment to return humans to the Moon by 2020, and to Mars at an unspecified later date. By June, 2004, NASA started taking steps to implement the President's Vision for Space Exploration, by setting specific exploration goals and milestones, emphasizing private sector engagement, and calling for an agency-wide reorganization to consolidate the space and Earth science programs. As the discretionary part of the federal budget has decreased in the past few years, members of congress and the scientific community have grown more and more concerned about how NASA's new exploration goals might jeopardize the agency's space and Earth science programs. This page summarizes legislative developments that may impact NASA's Earth science programs.

Recent Action

On September 28, 2005, the Senate unanimously passed legislation that would reauthorize NASA until 2010. The NASA Reauthorization Act, sponsored by Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), prioritizes uninterrupted human space flight and requires completion of the International Space Station (ISS). Uninterrupted space flight may not be compatible with NASA's Exploration Systems Architecture Study (ESAS), which NASA unveiled on September 20th, announcing a two year gap between the retirement of the space shuttle in 2010 and the launch of the new crew exploration vehicle in 2012. The House passed its version of NASA reauthorization legislation on July 22, 2005 (see below).

A week before the bill's passage, the Senate approved separate legislation that would allow NASA to bypass the Iran Non-Proliferation (INA) Act in order to pay Russia to transport astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS). Waiving NASA's obligations to the INA is critical to allowing U.S. astronauts to work on the ISS, because the INA prohibits the U.S. from buying Russian space technology as long as Russia continues to help Iran with their nuclear infrastructure. The new legislation, sponsored by Richard Lugar (R-IN), will give NASA a narrow exemption in order to pay Russia for use of the Soyuz spacecraft to get astronauts to and from the ISS. The House has not addressed this issue yet, although House Science Committee staff indicate that similar legislation will be introduced later in October. (10/3/05)

Previous Action

On July 22, 2005, the House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a re-authorization bill for NASA without developing a solution for getting around the Iran Non-Proliferation Act (INA), an obstacle that seriously threatens the U.S.'s ability to contribute to the International Space Station. The bill provides congressional endorsement for NASA to carry out President Bush's Vision for Space Exploration while taking measures to ensure the agency maintains its other primary missions of space science, Earth science, and aeronautics. A primary focus of the act is to allow NASA to proceed with retiring the space shuttle by 2010 and to encourage NASA to launch the next Crew Exploration Vehicle as close to 2010 as possible. It also provides for a mission to service the Hubble Space Telescope.

When the House Science Committee unanimously approved the bill one week earlier, committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-MI) stated that the full House would not consider the bill until it incorporated language to amend the INA, which prohibits the U.S. from employing Russian services unless the President proves Russia is not providing Iran the means to strengthen their nuclear program. Without the use of Russian space vehicles, astronauts would be able to obtain transport from the International Space Station in the event of an emergency. In its final language, the House bill instructs NASA to solve this problem by September 30, 2005. The Senate is also expected to consider their version of the bill in September. (7/28/05)

On July 14, 2005, the House Science Committee voted 38 - 0 in favor of the NASA Reauthorization Act of 2005 (H.R. 3070). During the mark-up, the committee approved a managers' amendment including several provisions resulting from last-minute negotiations. The added measures provide more specific budget authorization levels, including increased funding for NASA's science and aeronautics programs and funding firewalls to prevent budget transfers away from these non-exploration programs. The bill would also provide for a Hubble Space Telescope servicing mission, and it would require NASA to prioritize its exploration activities.

Boehlert hailed H.R. 3070 as a "true compromise" among committee members, in contrast with the Senate's version of the bill, which he said "places too much emphasis on the status quo and...fails to make the kinds of choices necessary to give NASA a forward-looking and sustainable program." In contrast to the Senate bill, the House bill intends to prioritize the development of the Crew Exploration Vehicle, and it de-emphasizes the importance of the International Space Station (ISS). Boehlert explained that, although the United States must stay true to its investment in the ISS, it should not commit more funds than are absolutely necessary and only use the station for research that cannot be performed elsewhere.

The obstacles posed by the Iran Non-proliferation Act also continue to threaten the United States' involvement in the ISS and the passage of H.R. 3070 overall. Chairman Boehlert explained that negotiations continue among committee staff over how best to enable U.S.-Russian space operations while staying true to the nation's non-proliferation agreement. The treaty currently prevents the U.S. from using Russian vessels to transport U.S. astronauts to and from the ISS in the event of an emergency. As it stands now, H.R. 3070 includes language that would allow this restriction to be waived in the event that a U.S. astronaut's life is in danger. But several members of Congress and the Administration favor striking the language altogether. Boehlert stated that he hopes the issue will be resolved so that the House bill can reach the floor by the week of July 18th, when the full Senate will meet to consider their version. (7/14/05)

On June 27, 2005 Representatives Ken Calvert and Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) introduced the House version of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Authorization Act (H.R. 3070). Similar to the Senate version passed by the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee the previous week, the bill sets a congressional mandate for NASA to carry out the President's Vision for Space Exploration while maintaining an appropriate and sustainable balance of funding for human space flight, aeronautics, and science programs. The bill encourages cooperation with entrepreneurs and other agencies as it directs NASA to develop a national aeronautics policy as well as a plan for Earth science mission priorities. The latter would be based on the findings of the interim report on Earth Observations and Applications From Space (See April 27, 2005 update, below) by the National Academy of Sciences' National Research Council.

Unlike the Senate bill, the House version makes no mention of continued U.S. participation in servicing the International Space Station (ISS) once it is completed, or establishig the ISS as a national laboratory. The bill provides about $16.5 billion for NASA for FY2006, equivalent to the House Appropriation last year, and about $15 million more than the President's request. It does not include authorization for fiscal years 2007-2010 nor does it specifiy how NASA should distribute the authorized amount for FY 2006. (6/28/05)

On June 23, 2005, the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee approved a reauthorization act for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) (S. 1281). Introduced by Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) and cosponsored by Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL), the legislation authorizes NASA for fiscal years 2006 through 2010 and sets guidelines to ensure the long-term success of the administration's space exploration goals without sacrificing existing commitments to human space flight, the International Space Station, aeronautics, and Earth science. As Hutchison stated in the bill's mark-up, "we in congress are adding our bold vision to the President's bold vision." Specifically, the bill differs from the Bush Administration's vision by requiring NASA to use "existing technology and industrial capacity" to close the expected four-year gap in human space flight capability after the space shuttle is retired in 2010. The legislation also requires that the U.S. maintain its leadership in the completion and servicing of the International Space Station (ISS), and designates the U.S. segment of the ISS a national laboratory.

Under Section 131, the bill also directs NASA to "conduct a rich and vigorous set of science activities aimed at better comprehension of the universe, solar system, and Earth, and ensure that the various areas within NASA's science portfolio are developed and maintained in a balanced and healthy manner." The bill gives no budget target for NASA's science programs, but instead encourages interagency and commercial collaboration in achieving a strong program, including options to "diversify flight opportunities for scientific Earth science instruments" and to "develop a long term sustainable relationship with the United States remote sensing industry." To enhance and improve the applications of geospatial information in federal, state and local agencies, the bill directs NASA to work closely with industry and universities. In addition, the bill directs NASA to develop a schedule for a servicing mission to save the Hubble Space Telescope.

As it was introduced, S. 1281 authorizes total appropriations for FY2006 through FY2010 at about the President's FY2006 budget request, with a slight 3% increase per year to keep pace with inflation. During the committee mark-up, Senator John Sununu (R-NH) failed to pass an amendment that would have protected funding for science research from falling below FY2005 enacted levels in real dollars. Making reference to the National Research Council's decadal study: Earth Observations and Applications From Space (See April 27, 2005 update, below), Sununu expressed concern about the future vitality of Earth science missions, and stated that such basic instrumentation "accounts for the...most significant successes in recent years." Opposing the amendment, the bill's sponsors reasoned that, while a noble attempt, setting a specific budget target for Earth science programs would restrict NASA's abilities to focus on funding the crew exploration vehicle and would likely cause offsets in other kinds of scientific research or exploration programs. A similar amendment, offered by Senator George Allen (R-VA) in support of NASA's aeronautics programs, also failed in a committee vote. (6/23/05)

On April 27, 2005 the National Research Council (NRC) released an interim report on Earth Observations and Applications From Space, which concluded that federal Earth science programs may be threatened by recent changes in executive policy and federal budget support, particularly at NASA. With appropriations for fiscal year 2006 (FY2006) moving forward now and budget priorities for FY2007 being considered within federal agencies, the House Science Committee staff requested the release of the NRC's initial findings to "provide an early indication of urgent, near-term issues that may require attention" before publication of the committee's final decadal survey, which will be completed by the end of 2006.

The NRC report states that, "at NASA, the vitality of Earth science and application programs has been placed at substantial risk by a rapidly shrinking budget that no longer supports already-approved missions and programs of high scientific and societal relevance." Driven by the President's Vision for Space Exploration, NASA may be jeopardizing other Presidential obligations, such as the Climate Change Research Initiative and leadership in a Global Earth Observing System of Systems (GEOSS).

The NRC makes several recommendations in the report to address delayed, descoped or canceled Earth observing missions. The NRC primarily recommends that the Global Precipitation Measurements (GPM) mission be launched without delay and that the Atmospheric Sounding from Geostationary Orbit (GIFTS) mission be launched by 2008. The GPM mission is an international collaborative effort to improve climate, weather, and hydrological predictions by taking more accurate and frequent precipitation measurements. Intended to be the successor to the successful Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM), GPM has been delayed several times by NASA. GIFTS will provide high-temporal-resolution measurements of atmospheric temperatures and water vapor. These measurements will help with the detection of rapid atmospheric changes associated with destructive weather events. Built at a cost of about $100 million, GIFTS has been canceled for a variety of reasons.

The report also urges that the Ocean Vector Winds, Landsat Data Continuity and Glory missions be reconsidered. The Ocean Vector Winds mission will monitor global ocean surface vector winds, which have implications for enhanced severe storm warning and El Nino predictions. Landsat has successfully collected data on Earth's continental surfaces for over 30 years, supporting science research, as well as land-use and resource management through the longest continuous record of the changing surfaces of the continents and other landmasses. The Glory mission was developed to measure aerosol properties and quantify their effect on climate. Aerosols are a significant source of uncertainty in climate predictions. Glory would also monitor the total solar irradiance or how the Sun's energy output varies to help estimate the effects of solar variations on climate change.

On May 28, 2005, the House Science Committee held a hearing to address the shortfalls in federal Earth Science programs as set forth by the NRC. Click here to read the Committee's hearing charter.

Background

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was established by the National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958 to conduct space and aeronautical research, development, and flight activities for peaceful purposes designed to maintain United States preeminence in aeronautics and space. NASA's unique mission of exploration, discovery, and innovation is intended to preserve the United States' role as both a leader in world aviation and as the pre-eminent space-faring nation. It is NASA's mission to: advance human exploration, use and development of space; advance and communicate scientific knowledge and understanding of the Earth, the Solar System and the Universe; and research, develop, verify and transfer advanced aeronautics and space technologies.

In January, 2004, President Bush announced A Renewed Spirit of Discovery: The President’s Vision for U.S. Space Exploration, a new directive for the Nation’s future in space exploration. A part of the vision was a new committment to return humans to the Moon by 2020, and, ultimately, to Mars. In response to this policy directive, NASA published, in February, 2004, its Vision for Space Exploration, which set specific exploration goals and milestones in accordance with the President's policy directive. By June of 2004, a Presidential Commission on Implementation of the United States Space Exploration Policy (Aldridge Commission), released a final report instructing NASA on how to implement the administation's vision. Among its recommendations, the report emphasized increased private sector engagement, and called for an agency-wide reorganization to consolidate some of the agency's science research and development programs.

For fiscal year (FY) 2005, NASA reorganized its science programs and shifted FY 2005 enacted funding to accomodate this reorganization. In accordance with the Aldridge Commission report, NASA's science and technolgoical research and development programs are all funded under the Science, Aeronautics and Exploration account. Within this division, NASA created four new "mission directorates"; these include Exploration Systems, Space Operations, Science, and Aeronautics Research. This reorganization had a significant impact on NASA's Earth science programs, as they were consolidated with Space Science and Biological & Physical Research programs into one Science Mission Directorate. Since the change, NASA's Earth science programs are now housed within The Earth-Sun System subsection of the Science division, which also has separate divisions for programs that concern the "Universe" and the "Solar System." Reconsituting research and development programs under the four major mission directorates left funding for NASA's "Exploration Capabilities" to be solely devoted to the International Space Station and Space Shuttle operations. NASA's Aeronautics and Education Programs were not affected by these changes. For more information about NASA's current budget priorities, go to AGI's website on NASA Appropriations.

Sources: Hearing Testimony, NASAWatch, SpaceRef.org, NASA website, National Research Council Documents, House Science Committee, Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.

Contributed by: Katie Ackerly, Government Affairs Staff and Peter Douglas, 2005 AGI/AAPG Fall Intern

Please send any comments or requests for information to AGI Government Affairs Program.

Last updated on October 4, 2005.