So what comes next when it comes to space? Landing a human on Mars is a major priority on both sides of the aisle and there is bipartisan agreement on the need for a NASA roadmap on how to get there, though there are disagreements over the best way to achieve that goal.
There is enthusiasm for continuing to study the solar system, the search for life elsewhere in the universe, and ensuring that NASA has the ability and the funding needed to explore deep space. Republican members are particularly excited about the potential to explore Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons, as well as intent on getting American astronauts back to Earth's moon again one day.
Democrats and Republicans also want to make sure that the U.S. does not have to rely on Russia to transport its astronauts to the International Space Station.
NASA’s successful mission of sending the New Horizons spacecraft hurtling past Pluto deeply inspired many Americans as well as members of Congress, and created an opportunity on Capitol Hill to talk about what the future of space exploration should look like.
Of course, all of the many things that America may endeavor to achieve in space cost money. And in an era of budget cuts and belt tightening, it has not always been easy to make sure that the money is there. The House and Senate have not been able to agree upon a NASA authorization bill since 2010. Two broad NASA authorization bills have passed out of the House in recent years, but there has not been floor action for NASA authorization in the Senate.
That makes it harder for Smith’s committee to set priorities for the space agency, but, even so, the panel has served as a powerful platform—and megaphone—for space exploration, regularly convening hearings and calling in expert witnesses to talk about what comes next and what NASA needs to succeed.
After Pluto’s New Horizons mission, the panel brought NASA mission specialists to Capitol Hill. The committee has invited NASA Administrator Charles Bolden to the Hill, and worked with NASA to set up a satellite feed so that American astronauts on the International Space Station could tell committee members, in their own words, what life is like in space.
While not directly related to NASA, in May, the House passed the SPACE Act, a piece of legislation that originated in the space subcommittee that aims to spur growth in America’s commercial space sector, helping companies such as Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Virgin Galactic continue to develop space exploration missions and projects.
Despite bipartisan support for space travel, however, NASA has also been a subject of a highly partisan debate.
In April, the committee passed a NASA authorization bill on a party-line vote increasing funding for deep-space-exploration programs and planetary exploration above what had been suggested by President Obama’s administration. The bill supported increased funding for the Space Launch System as well as the Orion crew vehicle program.