House passes NASA budget with calls for manned flights to Mars


McClatchy Washington Bureau

With bipartisan support, the House of Representatives on Monday passed a bill authorizing $17.6 billion in fiscal 2014 spending for U.S. space programs, roughly matching President Barack Obama’s budget request and underscoring the nation’s commitment to sending American astronauts into deep space.

The vote was 401-2.

“We are committed to once more launching American astronauts, on American rockets, from American soil,” Republican Rep. Steven Palazzo of Mississippi, the chairman of the Space Subcommittee of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, said on the House floor before passage.

The bill, he said, “will serve as a pathway to Mars.”

After taking office, amid budget pressures from the financial crisis that had devastated the economy, Obama canceled the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA’s) Constellation program, an effort to modernize the aging space shuttle system, but plagued itself by delays and cost overruns.

The decision forced the United States to rely on the Russian Federal Space Agency to carry American astronauts to and from the International Space Station and to rely on commercial partners developing rockets for other missions.

However, neither Obama nor Congress abandoned human space flight. Rather, they required work on a next-generation system, the Space Launch System, a heavy-lift rocket launcher more powerful than any built before, as well as on a new Orion spacecraft designed to take humans farther than they’ve ever gone before. Testing on the Space Launch System has been conducted at the Stennis Space Center in southern Mississippi. The first mission integrating the two new systems is scheduled for 2017.

While reinforcing those aspirations, the House bill passed Monday leaves to NASA the task of setting a road map for the next steps in space exploration.

The subcommittee’s ranking Democrat, Maryland Rep. Donna Edwards, said that the bill “is indeed a bipartisan effort. “

“It didn’t start out that way,” she said. “The nation should be glad it ended up that way.”

The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee has yet to pass its version of a NASA reauthorization bill.

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