U.S. Senators Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) and Bill Nelson (D-FL) applauded the House passage of HR 6586, "Space Exploration Sustainability Act" which included the Nelson-Hutchison amendment. Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX-21), incoming Chairman of the House Science Committee, presented the bill on the House floor yesterday, where it passed without objection. The measure now goes to the President for his signature.
"This legislation is extremely important to help ensure the success of the United States civil space program, both in maintaining our access to the International Space Station (ISS) national laboratory, and in pursuing the new vision and mission of exploring beyond low Earth orbit," Senator Hutchison said. "This action by Congress reaffirms the intent of the 2010 NASA Authorization Act, which reflected a hard-fought Congressional and Administration consensus for the future of NASA in the post-shuttle era. I am delighted that this will be one of my final acts as a U.S. Senator and is in cooperation with my good friend and colleague, Senator Bill Nelson."
"This legislation reaffirms our commitment to a robust future for the space program," said Nelson. "I am grateful to, and will miss, Sen. Hutchison, and I look forward to working with Sen. Boozman as we lead the space subcommittee in 2013."
The sense of Congress clearly reaffirms the existing law in requiring a balanced approach to developing a new heavy lift vehicle and crew exploration module (the Space Launch System and the Orion exploration vehicle) as well as developing a new commercial space launch capability for both crew and cargo to the ISS and other potential destinations in low-Earth orbit. It also underscores the importance of not pursuing those developments at the expense of each other, or of NASA's other vital missions.
The legislation also extends the authority for third-party liability indemnification for commercial launch providers, which is essential to enable the commercial market to grow and thrive. It extends that authority for one year, while the Federal Aviation Administration conducts a review of the underlying formula for calculating probable levels of loss.
The bill also ensures that starting in the 2016-2018 period, the U.S. can purchase crew launch servicers on Russian Soyuz vehicles as a back-up capability to the planned commercial crew providers now under early development and expected at that time to be the primary means for transporting crew members to and from the ISS.