Proponents of a robust public-private space exploration program are pointing to recently passed Senate legislation as signaling a likely smooth transition of existing programs and strategies, despite the looming seismic shift in administrations in Washington.
Senate Bill 3346, dubbed the NASA Transition Authorization Act of 2016, was introduced in September by Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla), Gary Peters (D-Mich), Roger Wicker (R-Mississippi), and Tom Udall (D-New Mexico).
It passed the Senate unanimously on Dec. 10 in what was largely a symbolic vote as the House has adjourned for the balance of this session. However, the strong bipartisan backing reflected in the vote sets the stage for similar legislation to come before the Senate and House early in 2017.
Such legislation would extend existing policy regarding use of the International Space Station and the general game plan for a manned mission to Mars.
“America has long led the way in exploring the unchartered territory of deep space, which has also fostered extraordinary economic growth and job creation for the State of Texas and the entire nation,” Cruz said after the Senate vote. “Today, Republicans and Democrats stood united to reassert the need for certainty in the U.S. space program moving forward. This broad, bipartisan legislative achievement provides NASA with the stability it needs as the agency transitions to a new administration. It also lays an important marker as we continue working to enact this important legislation as soon as possible.”
Said the Coalition for Deep Space Exploration, an industry advocacy group: “There is no clearer signal of the continued Congressional support for NASA’s human exploration and deep space science programs than the Senate’s passage of the NASA Transition Authorization Act. This bill … shows (backers’) commitment to NASA and ensuring continued progress on NASA’s core exploration capabilities.”
Since the election, there has been speculation that President-elect Donald Trump might seek to de-emphasize environmentally related programs at NASA. But the biggest concern among most commercial space companies revolves around the robust backing of space exploration generally and a financial commitment in Congress to see current programs through for the benefit of a broad swath of American enterprise.
Indeed, two companies announcing sizable contract awards on Dec. 12 show well the diversity of commercial endeavors depending heavily on the unimpeded flow of NASA dollars:
— Lanham, Md.-based a.i. Solutions has been awarded $387.6 million in contracts extending almost a decade to support NASA’s launch services program. The work includes end-to-end launch services for NASA and NASA-sponsored payloads on commercial expendable launch vehicles at Kennedy Space Center in Florida and Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.
—Richmond, Canada-based MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd., has been selected to provide a $27 million “spacecraft bus” for NASA Goddard Space Flight Center’s Restore-L servicing mission, which aims to demonstrate the ability to extend the life of a satellite in in low-Earth orbit.