Thursday marked the first day of the U. S. 113th Congress, the members of the House and Senate elected in November to serve new two and six-year terms.
However, before the 112th Congress adjourned, also on Thursday, the House and Senate produced a positive statement on the future of U. S. human space activities.
As an amendment to NASA’s 2010 Authorization Act, the legislation urges NASA to proceed with staffing and research activities aboard the six-person International Space Station; continue with the development of the four astronaut Orion capsule for future missions of deep space exploration, as well as the Space Launch System, a big new rocket that could start explorers on future missions to the moon, asteroids and Mars.
The amendment also urges NASA to continuing nurturing the development of commercial human space transportation systems, spacecraft operated by the private sector to transport astronauts to and from the space station and other future orbital destinations.
“These capabilities remain inherently complementary and interrelated,” states the amendment to the 2010 NASA Authorization Act. Policy makers should strive to provide the funding necessary to sustain the work in both arenas without shorting either NASA’s development efforts or those of the commercial sector, the amendment adds.
Currently, the White House and Congress plan to operate the six person space station through 2020.
Orion is headed towards its first unpiloted test flight in 2014. The first unpiloted launch of an Orion with the SLS is targeted for 2017. The first human mission of Orion aboard and SLS is planned for 2021.
Early in his first term, President Obama directed NASA to prepare for a human mission to a near-Earth asteroid in 2025. The flight is to serve as a stepping stone to a human mission to the Martian environs a decade or so later and an eventual mission with astronauts to the Martian surface.
NASA’s partnerships with Boeing, Sierra Nevada and SpaceX to produce orbital crew transportation systems are aiming toward a 2017 start.
However, the 112th Congress authorized a waiver of the Iran, North Korea, and Syria Nonproliferation Act, which placed a July 1, 2016 deadline on NASA’s ability to purchase transportation from Russia for astronauts going to and from the space station. The extension allows NASA to purchase Soyuz seats from Russia until Dec. 31, 2020.
The Soyuz became the only means of transporting astronauts to the station when NASA’s space shuttle fleet was retired in mid-2011.