Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee Markup -- H.R. 6063
Opening Statement By Rep. Mark Udall
Today, the Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics will mark up H.R. 6063, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Authorization Act of 2008. This bill reflects the constructive input of literally dozens of witnesses who testified at the some 17 hearings that the Committee and Subcommittee have held to date on space and aeronautics issues in the 110th Congress. In addition, we have heard from a variety of experts and stakeholders from the space and aeronautics communities over that same period. Their insights have been invaluable as we have worked to craft this bill.
And of course, I have benefited from the collaborative efforts of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle—their efforts have helped make this a better bill. I am very pleased that the result has been a bill that Ranking Member Feeney and I can both embrace, along with Chairman Gordon and Full Committee Ranking Member Hall, who have joined us as original cosponsors of the legislation. The bipartisan nature of this legislation sends an important message to Congress as a whole—as well as to the next President—namely that NASA is a national resource that is worthy of our strong support.
Indeed, this bill reflects the conviction that NASA is as much a contributor to the nation’s innovation agenda as any of the agencies put on a doubling path in last year’s “America COMPETES Act”. Thus the baseline NASA authorization funding level for FY 2009 contained in this bill—$19.21 billion—represents an 11 percent increase over the FY 2008 appropriation for NASA—the same rate of increase in annual funding that is to be found in the America COMPETES Act. Another way of looking at the baseline funding level authorized for NASA in the bill is that it represents simply an inflationary increase—about 2.8 percent—over the authorized level for FY 2008 that was contained in the NASA Authorization Act of 2005, legislation that passed both chambers of Congress by wide margins and was signed into law by the President. We have heard from witness after witness over at least the past year and a half that NASA has not been given the funding it needs to successfully carry out all of the important tasks that the nation has asked of it.
Well, we’ve listened, and the funding authorized in H.R. 6063 will help point NASA towards a more productive and sustainable future. In addition to the baseline authorization, H.R. 6063 contains a directed funding augmentation intended to help accelerate the date when the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle and Ares Crew Exploration Vehicle can attain full operational status. I think that it is important to provide that additional funding—a series of policy failures over a number of years have brought us to the point where we will have an unavoidable gap in the United States’ ability to get its astronauts into space independently. That is not a desirable state of affairs, but that is where matters stand. Providing the additional funding in FY 2009 can help narrow that gap while also putting in place the space transportation system that will help us carry out exciting and important exploration missions beyond low Earth orbit in the decades to come. As you can see from the text, there are many provisions in H.R. 6063, and there is not sufficient time to restate all of them in this opening statement.
I would simply focus on a few key thrusts of the legislation. First, NASA is an agency whose programs are strongly relevant to addressing important national needs, whether through its Earth sciences research and applications program, its aeronautics R&D program, or its contributions to peaceful and productive international collaborations in science and human space flight. We need to ensure that NASA remains a balanced, multimission agency, and this legislation takes steps to do so.
Second, NASA has an important role to play in helping to address the research challenges associated with climate change, as well as in helping to apply NASA’s research capabilities to meeting other societal needs. This bill provides a path for NASA to follow in fulfilling that role.
Third, NASA’s aeronautics program is one of the most relevant activities of the agency due to its impact on our quality of life, public safety, the vitality of the economy, and our national security. We must ensure that NASA’s aeronautics program gets the resources it needs to remain relevant, and we need to ensure that NASA’s aeronautics program is focused on providing the best return on the taxpayer’s investment in it. This bill includes a series of provisions to do just that.
Fourth, a growing number of nations in the world have or will have human space flight programs in the coming years and decades. It is inevitable. America needs to promote a productive, cooperative approach to human space exploration under U.S. leadership. It is an approach that will deliver clear benefits to America in a variety of ways, and this bill includes concrete measures to implement it.
Finally, America’s private sector has always been one of its great strengths. NASA should both nurture and embrace the capabilities of the private sector in the conduct of its missions. Thus this bill includes substantive measures to help realize the synergies achievable between government and the private sector. Well, there are many other features of H.R. 6063 that I could mention. In closing, I would simply return to something I said last week when I introduced H.R. 6063, namely that this year marks the 50th anniversary of the birth of the U.S. space program and the establishment of NASA. NASA has accomplished a great deal over the past five decades, and we all can take pride in its achievements. Yet, we dare not become complacent. We need to continue to invest in NASA. We also need to work to ensure that NASA remains relevant to the nation’s needs. And we need to continue to give the agency challenging missions to accomplish—missions that bring out the best in us as a nation.
I believe that H.R. 6063 does all of those things, and I hope that Members will support it at today’s markup.