The Senate today, by a vote of 79 – 18, approved a $1.1 trillion spending bill to fund the federal government through September.
The measure includes $19.65 billion for NASA, which is $368 million more than the space agency received last year and $145 million more than Congress had approved for the agency earlier this year.
Today, congressional leaders credited U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) for getting the additional funding included in the bill.
“NASA had actually been targeted for certain cuts … but thanks to the advocacy of Senator Nelson, NASA will get an increase of $368 million,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said on the Senate floor this morning. “There is no one in the Senate who has done more for our [space program] than Bill Nelson.”
Nelson, the top Democrat on the Senate Commerce Committee which oversees NASA, says the additional funding will help expand commercial space activity along Florida’s Space Coast and keep NASA on track to put humans on Mars within the next quarter-century.
“The space program creates thousands and thousands and thousands of jobs for skilled workers to build the machines that help us explore the heavens,” Nelson said on the Senate floor today. “The funding included in this budget deal moves us ever closer to answering that burning question: are we alone in the universe?”
Nelson, who spent six days orbiting the planet aboard the space shuttle Columbia, co-authored the current blueprint from which NASA is operating. That bill – the NASA Transition Authorization Act of 2017 – requires NASA to establish a human settlement on Mars and continue the commercial space industry’s development of a new American-made rocket to once again send American astronauts to and from the International Space Station without having to rely on Russia.
“In this time when we find ourselves far too divided in our politics, the exploration of space continues to be a powerful force that brings us together,” Nelson said today.
Below is a rush transcript of Schumer and Nelson’s remarks on the floor this morning, and video of their remarks is available here.
U.S. Sens. Bill Nelson and Chuck Schumer
Remarks on the Senate Floor
May 4, 2017
Sen. Schumer: […] One final issue, seeing my friend from Florida about to take the floor, I would like to yield to him for a moment.
But before I do, I want to recognize his outstanding efforts in securing additional funding in the appropriations bill for NASA.
NASA had actually been targeted for certain cuts by the Trump administration in their budget that would have nixed the program to send a mission to a moon of Jupiter, but thanks to the advocacy of Senator Nelson, NASA will get an increase of $368 million, enough to fund the mission.
I know this is dear to his heart. He was the first member of the thousands to serve on a NASA mission aboard the space shuttle Columbia. He has a passion for and deep knowledge of our space program. There is no one in the Senate who has done more for it than Bill Nelson. He’s worked hard ever since he’s gotten to the Senate and has had great, great success.
Once again he’s had a success here today. His constituents in Florida and all Americans should be grateful that Bill is a real leader on both these issues, in our caucus and in the whole Senate.
With that I yield to my friend, the senator from Florida.
Sen. Nelson: Many, many thanks to the leader for his kind remarks, but also since the final bill was negotiated by the big four, the two leaders in the Senate and the two leaders in the House, and it wasn’t going to happen this way unless the leaders all agreed so my thanks, my profound thanks on behalf of the explorers and the adventurers of the United States, the can-do little agency NASA that is now on the way to Mars on behalf of all of that NASA family, I want to thank the leaders and especially the Democratic leader and thanks personally for his very kind comments.
Now, I want to say that we have approached the NASA bill in a bipartisan way. As a matter of fact, I give great credit to both the chairs and the ranking members in the House Science Committee as well as the subcommittee in appropriations in the House that handles NASA appropriations.
All of those leaders were absolutely key, and of course the same thing is true here in the Senate. I have the privilege of sharing the leadership as the ranking member with our chairman John Thune of the commerce committee. It was the subcommittee of which that subcommittee chairman and ranking member as well as the subcommittee in the appropriations committee, the chairman and the ranking who we will hear from momentarily. And all of them, I am very grateful.
And what it says is that NASA, America’s civilian space program, should not be a partisan subject. What it says is that the leaders of NASA should not be partisans. As a matter of fact, they should even be more than bipartisan. They should be nonpartisans. And that has been their tradition of NASA, so like the secretary of defense, you consider that appointment a nonpartisan. So, too, we consider the administrator of NASA a nonpartisan.
I think in this interim with the acting administrator of NASA, that they’re conducting themselves in a very significant way keeping all of the advancements that they have done now to be accelerated with this appropriations bill.
I want to congratulate the whole NASA team. And it has been my argument to the vice president and to the president that in the selection of the next leader of NASA, that they need to again do it in a nonpartisan way so that we can keep us going for this human mission that is going to the planet Mars in the decade of the 2030’s.
Now, with the increase in NASA funding, we now stand on the precipice of a new golden age of exploration and discovery.
In March of this year, several of us were at the White House when the president signed the NASA reauthorization bill. And what we had worked on for the better part of two years keeps NASA on a steady course with a balanced and ambitious mix of science, technology, and exploration initiatives and let’s don’t forget that the first “A” in NASA is aeronautics. It keeps all of that moving forward.
So this additional $368 million of funding for NASA gives that little agency the ability to build off of the momentum that is already there.
So, for example, one of the things in the White House, and I have commended him both privately and publicly, the vice president, he is bringing about the reestablishment of the National Space Council. I shared with him that all of us look forward to working with him and the Council to develop and carry out the ambitious civil, commercial and national security space agenda for this country.
So the $19.65 billion appropriation for NASA coupled with the NASA authorization bill that we already passed a month or two ago demonstrates our firm commitment to one day putting humans on Mars and permanently expanding our civilization out into the cosmos.
We will soon have a regular cadence of missions that are launching to deep space using the Space Launch System, the largest rocket ever, a third more powerful than the Saturn V rocket that took us to the moon. Its spacecraft, Orion, and other systems that will be assembled and launched and a lot of that being done at Florida’s Space Coast.
The first rockets and spacecraft that will start the journey are being assembled right now at various sites across the country. And right now the Space Launch System, the SLS rocket, the Orion spacecraft that sits on top of it, and the launch infrastructure at Cape Canaveral or more specifically the Kennedy Space Center are all in the most challenging stage of their development. These complex systems are all very intertwined and it’s vital that we make sure that NASA has the funding flexibility it needs to address issues as they come up so they can bring about these systems together for the launch in early 2019 of the largest rocket ever.
We’ve asked NASA to look for new ways to expand commercial space activities in earth orbit, and we’re providing NASA the tools and direction it needs to expand our commercial space activity. And we’re on a track to begin launching astronauts to the International Space Station on American rockets commercially made and that’s going to start next year. People don’t realize they thought the space shuttle was being shut down in 2011. They thought that was the end of the space program. No, no. All of is being developed aside from the robotic missions that have been “gee whiz,” the rovers on Mars, all the pictures of the cosmos, I mean, it’s just unbelievable.
Next year we’re going to launch the Hubble to replace the Hubble space telescope which has peered back into the beginning of time. We are going to look back almost to the beginning of time with the James Webb telescope, and all of this is strengthening a flourishing U.S. space industry, especially in the areas where NASA centers are located around the country.
And what’s happening at the Kennedy Space Center is it’s being transformed into a commercial as well as government space port into a busy, busy civil, military, and commercial space port.
So this appropriations budget allows us to continue all of this going on at the same time. We’re going to put up “gee whiz” things like the Wide Field Infrared Survey telescope and also additional Mars rovers, the rovers that are up there show that Mars at one point was warm and wet, and we’re going to find out was there life there and if it was, was it developed and if it was, was it civilized, and if it was, what happened. These are lingering questions as we peer up into the night sky that we wonder.
The funding included in this budget deal moves us ever closer to answering that burning question: are we alone in the universe? And this budget better helps us understand our own planet by funding NASA’s Earth science program as well as funding aeronautics and education programs for our youth. And so the investments that we as a country make in our space program pay immediate dividends in our quality of life right here on earth.
And, of course, the space program creates thousands and thousands and thousands of jobs for skilled workers to build the machines that help us explore the heavens. And jobs for the researchers to understand and interpret what we discover, and jobs for the engineers and the entrepreneurs to develop the new technologies so these public investments also stimulate complimentary investments of private capital and the thousands of jobs that follow from that. And those are companies that will partner with NASA.
So, again, I want to thank our colleagues in both the House and the Senate for their continued support of our space program. In this time when we find ourselves far too divided in our politics, the exploration of space continues to be a powerful force that brings us together into our search as we explore the universe.
Mr. President, I yield the floor.