WASHINGTON — With a new president on the horizon, a key Senate committee moved Wednesday to protect long-standing priorities of the nation’s space program from the potential upheaval of an incoming administration.
Members of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee passed a bipartisan bill authorizing $19.5 billion to continue work on a Mars mission and efforts to send astronauts on private rockets to the International Space Station from U.S. soil — regardless of shifting political winds.
Lawmakers haven’t forgotten that President Obama, shortly after taking office, scrapped the Bush administration’s Constellation program that sought to send astronauts back to the moon. Many members of Congress felt stung by the cancellation and angry that Obama hadn’t consulted them.
“We have seen in the past the importance of stability and predictability in NASA and space exploration, (and) that whenever one has a change in administration, we have seen the chaos that can be caused by the cancellation of major programs,” said Sen. Ted Cruz, the Texas Republican who chairs the subcommittee overseeing the space program. “The impact in terms of jobs lost, the impact in terms of money wasted has been significant.”
The $19.5 billion authorized for fiscal 2017 under the NASA Transition Authorization Act of 2016 is the same amount approved by House appropriators and slightly more than the $19.3 billion approved by members of the Senate Appropriations Committee. It’s not clear when the Senate bill will reach the floor, where it’s expected to pass.