Obama Signs NASA Authorization Act Of 2010
The legislation budgets $58.4 billion over three years to NASA.
Key parts include canceling Constellation, a program from the George W. Bush era that was supposed to start a human colony on the moon by 2020. Based on a space panel's review, Constellation was determined “over budget, behind schedule, and lacking in innovation.”
Instead, NASA is instructed to use as many existing contracts as possible from Constellation in creating spacecraft that can take humans beyond low-Earth orbit by 2016. This capability would advance the Obama administration's vision to send humans to an asteroid by 2025 and Mars by the mid-2030s.
The spending framework also extends the life of the International Space Station to at least 2020 and permits an additional space shuttle mission to the two scheduled remaining flights.
As part of NASA's transition away from the shuttle, $1.6 billion over three years goes toward commercial companies to develop spacecraft capable of carrying cargo and astronauts to the space station and low-Earth orbit. Until American companies meet such standards, the U.S. will rely on the Russians for access to the space station after the shuttle fleet retires next year.
NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden called the legislation “a new path in space that will enable our country to develop greater capabilities” but acknowledged “there is still a lot of hard work ahead” as Congress moves forward with the appropriations process.
Funds outlined in the authorization act are not allocated until a 2011 appropriations bill passes.
However, debate surrounding the future of NASA's human spaceflight program-- largely based on distrust of the private sector and political fights to save in-state jobs-- is expected to continue in Congress.
Congress approved the Senate-crafted authorization act with strong bipartisan support in late September due to pressure to meet the new fiscal year, which began Oct. 1.
In the interim, NASA and other federal agencies are being funded at 2010 levels by a continuing resolution, a type of legislation Congress adopts to keep the government operating when regular appropriations bills are not yet enacted.