Congress passes NASA authorization bill

WASHINGTON — Congress passed NASA’s first authorizing bill in more than five years, formally expanding operations of the International Space Station and supporting NASA’s Artemis exploration efforts.

The House of Representatives on July 28 passed the “Create Useful Incentives for Semiconductor Production (CHIPS) and Science Act” by 243-187 votes, a day after the Senate passed the bill by 64 to 33. President Biden has stated that he supports the bill and will sign it into law.

The bill was primarily a way to support domestic manufacturing of semiconductors, but one part of the bill included NASA licensing legislation. This segment, released last week, extends NASA’s mandate to operate the International Space Station from 2024 to 2030. It also formally authorizes the “Moon to Mars Program” which includes the Artemis campaign of lunar missions and eventual human missions to Mars.

The bill would be the first NASA authorization law to become law since the NASA Transitional Authorization Act of 2017 in March 2017. This in turn was the first NASA authorization law passed since 2010. In the past five years, there have been several attempts at authorization bills New NASA, including versions passed by one branch of Congress but not both.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson, who served as a senator on several NASA bills, welcomed the new bill. “This law demonstrates continued bipartisan support for many NASA missions, including our approach from the Moon to Mars, as well as the extension of the United States’ participation in the International Space Station through 2030,” he said in a statement.

Industry groups also supported the bill. “It is encouraging to see Congress prioritizing strengthening NASA’s technology, infrastructure, and workforce in this legislation, while also authorizing major programs including Artemis, the ISS Extension, x-jet sustainable flight demonstrations, space nuclear systems, and a wide range of science,” Eric said. Fanning, president and CEO of the Aerospace Industries Association, in a statement released July 27 after the Senate approved the law.

“I’m glad I helped draft and secure the first NASA license in five years,” Representative Don Baer (D-Va.), chair of the House Space Subcommittee, said in a statement after the House passed the bill. “This bill is a huge win for space policy, the US space program and NASA.”

Nelson, in his statement, thanked several members of Congress from both parties for their work on NASA’s part of CHIPS and the sciences. However, some of the Republicans he thanked voted against the final bill.

Among them was Representative Frank Lucas (R-Ok), the distinguished member of the House Science Committee. In remarks on the House floor, he said he’s voting against the bill because of efforts by Democratic senators, which were announced only after the Senate passed the bill, to advance a separate bill through the budget reconciliation process.

In his speech, he said, declaring his intent to vote against the bill, but adding that his decision “in no way reflects my feelings about the transformative research policies of this bill.”

In the House, 24 Republicans voted for CHIPS and the Science Act, joining all but one House Democrat who voted “present.”

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