Report from Washington, D.C.

August Activity on the Hill

Written by: developer

by Jillianne Pierce, Space Foundation Government Affairs Associate

August was a relatively quiet month in the Capitol, as Congress was in recess for the summer.

On Aug. 5, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden sent a letter to notify Congress that due to reductions in funding for the agency’s Commercial Crew program over the past several years, NASA had to increase its contract with Roscosmos by $490 million for services to ferry American astronauts to the International Space Station through 2017. In the letter, Bolden implored Congress to fully fund the Commercial Crew Program at President Obama’s requested level for Fiscal Year (“FY”) 2016. Wrote Bolden: It is my sincere hope that we all agree that the greatest nation on Earth should not be dependent on others to launch humans into space.

Bolden further warned that NASA’s Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) contractors “are on track today to provide certified crew transportation systems in 2017. Reductions from the FY 2016 request for Commercial Crew proposed in the House and Senate FY 2016 Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies appropriations bills would result in NASA’s inability to fund several planned CCtCap milestones in FY 2016 and would likely result in funds running out for both contractors during the spring/summer of FY 2016. If this occurs, the existing fixed-price CCtCap contracts may need to be renegotiated, likely resulting in further schedule slippage and increased cost.

On Aug. 4, House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology Chairman Lamar Smith and 13 congressional colleagues penned a letter to Administrator Bolden expressing their concern about the pending investigation of the June 28 SpaceX launch failure. Specifically, the letter inquired why NASA convened an independent review of last year’s Orbital ATK launch failure but did not for the SpaceX failure. Both the Orbital and SpaceX launches were conducted under FAA launch licenses, and therefore, the investigations are being conducted by the FAA.

On Aug. 24, Administrator Bolden sent a reply to Chairman Smith, assuring Congress that the Chairman and his colleagues’ concerns were based on a fundamental misunderstanding. Bolden wrote: I want to assure you that NASA is performing an independent analysis of the Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) SpX-7 “CRS-7” launch failure.

The letter goes on to detail the review processes in place for both investigations and reaffirms NASA’s commitment to maintaining U.S. leadership in space.

Because Congress failed to pass a FY 2016 federal budget before recessing, when the Congress reconvenes on Sept. 8, the House and Senate will have just three weeks to negotiate a budget deal. Among the many items in limbo are the Defense Appropriations Act and the Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations bills. Click here to review the Space Foundation’s tracking charts for the Department of Defense, NASA and NOAA.

If a FY 2016 budget or Continuing Resolution (“CR”) isn’t agreed upon, there could be a government shutdown. The last government shutdown took place Oct. 1-16, 2013. Federal funding runs out on Sept. 30.

A House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology hearing on extraterrestrial life has not yet been scheduled, but is expected to occur early this fall.


This article is part of Space Watch: September 2015 (Volume: 14, Issue: 9).