When President Obama promised change, most people probably did not picture NASA. But if Obama has failed to deliver change elsewhere, the nation’s premier space exploration agency could be an exception.
Change for NASA, however, was probably inevitable. In 2004, it was announced that the space shuttle would be retired — something that is scheduled to take place later this year. Thus, the question then became how NASA would get U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station.
Last April, the administration revealed a new plan that would drastically revamp NASA’s programs and operations. In it, NASA’s budget would be increased by $6 billion over five years, work on a new heavy-lift rocket would begin by 2015, and, most importantly, a new commercial space transportation industry would be jumpstarted.
In other words, instead of a federal government agency building shuttles and hiring government employees to fly them into space, it would contract that work out to private businesses that see a potential market for space travel.
Then the trouble began. Lawmakers on Capitol Hill immediately balked at the plan, labeling it a job killer and the end of NASA excellence.
“This plan was a huge change from what we were doing,” space policy analyst Jim Muncy told The Daily Caller. “But what we were doing wasn’t working, although people didn’t want to admit it.”
But once the plan became a non-starter, the Senate drafted a compromise version. Passed in July, it legislates, among other things, that construction of a new rocket begin next year (as opposed to 2015). It also reduces funding for the commercial crew program that would allow NASA to invest resources in the private sector to develop space transportation devices.
The House version that is under consideration this week, however, is a different matter. “It basically tries to keep as much of the existing program as possible,” said Muncy. That includes attempting to keep the Ares 1 program, a plan that was supposed to get NASA astronauts back to the moon by the end of the decade. Instead, the program has cost more and more money, while development has only been delayed.
While lawmakers from the House and Senate came together to work out a pre-conference version both chambers could agree on, as of Wednesday, no agreement had been made. So the question now is, as negotiations continue, which version of the space authorization bill will be left standing?
NEXT: Why Congress may reject the president’s plan
According to Muncy, some members of Congress may be reject the president’s plan because outsourcing space shuttle development to private companies means government jobs will be lost.
“This initiative met strong resistance from aerospace contractors working on Constellation projects and several members of Congress in whose districts the work is being performed,” said a press release form Concerned Citizens Against Government Waste (CCAGW).
Tom Schatz, president of CCAGW, went on to say, “Congress would be wise to reject the House bill and favor the Senate’s legislation, which would allow the private sector to invest in a competitive commercial system and result in more efficient space travel.”
While House leadership has yet to schedule when their version will go to the floor, it is expected to happen next week.