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Congress OKs plan for NASA’s next steps

The Senate approves legislation shaping U.S. space policy, continuing the shuttle and space station programs and giving a boost to President Bush’s space exploration vision.
/ Source: Reuters

The Senate early Thursday approved legislation shaping U.S. space policy, continuing the shuttle and international space station programs and giving a boost to President Bush’s vision of a new era of ambitious space exploration.

Bush has called for a “Vision for Space Exploration” and an eventual bid to return humans to the moon. While the newly approved bill focuses on the next two years, it also lays out policy elements to support a move toward a return to the moon.

“Our national policy will determine the nation’s role in future space exploration and its contribution to broad research and our national security,” Texas Republican Kay Bailey Hutchison, chairman of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Science and Space, said in a statement.

The NASA reauthorization bill, which has passed the House and goes to Bush for his signature, gives spending outlines but specific appropriations are made in annual spending bills.

The bill calls for the completion of the international space station, and designates the U.S. portion of that project a national laboratory facility that Hutchison said “will expand the variety of areas to which space research can be applied.”

It increases funding for the space shuttle program, which has been plagued by technical problems and a deadly accident in 2003, to allow for transition to the next generation of human spaceflight vehicles. NASA’s shuttle fleet is scheduled to be retired in 2010.

It also expands the Centennial Challenges — a NASA prize program modeled after the privately backed Ansari X Prize won by SpaceShipOne last year. The new legislation would allow for multimillion-dollar prizes, far in excess of the current per-competition limit of $250,000.

In a statement, NASA Administrator Michael Griffin hailed the congressional action: "Passage of this legislation marks another endorsement by the Congress of the nation's Vision for Space Exploration. We appreciate the efforts of the House and Senate members and their continued strong support of NASA. America must continue to be the leader in space exploration as we transition to a new and exciting mission for the American people."

This report includes information from