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18 October 2008

NASA Authorization Bill Enacted

HR 6063, aka the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Authorization Act of 2008, was signed into law by President Bush on Friday, 17 October 2008.  HR 6063 is not a full appropriations bill.  Rather it is a statement of declared intentions for NASA and sets upper limits for FY 2009, to the tune of $20.2 billion.  However, Congress is not likely to award this full amount.  The bill includes an additional $1 billion to speed Ares development.  

Notable parts of the bill include a "Reaffirmation of Exploration Policy," which sets out for the next Administration Congress's support for the VSE.  Also, the section entitled "Stepping Stone Approach to Exploration" mandates that future Administrators are to consider future use in exploring other celestial bodies when designing lunar architecture.

Congress also mandates that "The Administrator shall take all necessary steps to ensure that the International Space Station remains a viable and productive facility capable of potential United States utilization through at least 2020 and shall take no steps that would preclude its continued operation and utilization by the United States after 2015."

Addressing the life of the Space Shuttle, NASA is required to fly its established schedule plus one flight to life the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer to the ISS.  NASA is also prohibited from taking any actions that would make it impossible to fly the Shuttle after 2010 if the new President decides he wants to extend the Program, but Congress also states that by having that sections, they are not endorsing an extension of the program.  NASA has 120 from enactment of the bill to provide Congress with a report that "outlin[es] options, impacts, and associated costs of ensuring the safe and effective operation of the Space Shuttle at the minimum rate necessary to support International Space Station operations and resupply."