08:08 AM

USRA Supports Senate Committee Action on NASA Authorization Bill

The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation unanimously approved, yesterday, an original Senate version of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Authorization Act of 2008.

USRA supports this important bipartisan legislation, and commends Commerce Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye and Vice Chairman Ted Stevens, and Chairman Bill Nelson and Ranking Member David Vitter of the Space, Aeronautics, and Related Sciences Subcommittee on approving the bill this year.

The bill authorizes "baseline" funding to NASA of $19.2 billion for fiscal year 2009, above the President's budget request of $17.6 billion. The bill also authorizes an additional $1 billion to accelerate initial operational capability of a U.S.-owned human spacecraft and an additional $150 million for the development of a commercial crew vehicle. These additions bring the total authorization to $20.35 billion.

The bill charts new ground with several innovative provisions. Among these is support of university research opportunities carried out on sounding rockets, high-altitude balloons, suborbital flights, and small satellite payloads that enable hands-on training for undergraduate and graduate students. The bill sets a goal of not less than one percent of the NASA baseline authorization for funding of such opportunities. The bill also indicates the sense of the Congress that funding for these opportunities should be considered a part of NASA's contribution under the America COMPETES Act, which passed last year.

Today, there are fewer opportunities at our nation's research universities for the next-generation of scientists and engineers to gain the training they will need to succeed in aerospace fields. In fact, the number of flight opportunities through which university students can build hardware has declined steadily over the last two decades. Since 1970, suborbital experimental launches have decreased eighty percent—from 270 launches per year in 1970 to less 50 planned launches this year. This bill will reverse this decades-long decline.

In March of this year, USRA member universities unanimously adopted a resolution at their annual meeting urging increased funding for competitive research opportunities for university-led missions that allow hands-on student participation. In May, USRA's President testified before the Subcommittee on Space, Aeronautics, and Related Sciences on this important issue.

The Universities Space Research Association, established in 1969 by the National Academy of Sciences, is a private, nonprofit consortium of 102 universities offering advanced degrees in space- and aeronautics-related disciplines. USRA's mission is to conduct leading-edge research, develop innovative technologies, promote education and policy across the breadth of space science, and operate premier science and technology facilities by involving universities, private industry and government.