Senator Bill Nelson Fights to Extend ISS Operations

Although Sen. Bill Nelson’s (D-Fla.) political career is coming to an end, as well as the current Congress Nelson said that he’s continuing to fight to keep operations of the International Space Station running through the end of the next decade.

During a speech on the Senate floor, which will be one of his last in the Senate, Nelson explained that he and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), chairman of the Senate space subcommittee, were working on getting an extension of the authorization of ISS operations passed before 2018 comes to an end.

Presently, ISS operations are authorized until the end of 2024, a date that the other ISS partners have also agreed on. But, in the agency’s 2019 budget proposal released in February, NASA proposed ending direct funding of the ISS in 2025 as part of its plan to commercialize low Earth orbit operations, to free up resources to back their lunar exploration plans.

Nelson and Cruz are firmly against any effort to end ISS operations in 2025. Instead, they want to extend station operations through the 2020s. The station’s international partners would also have to support such an extension, something they said earlier this fall that they were thinking about.

In early July, Cruz introduced the Space Frontier Act, and Nelson was a co-sponsor, that act among its commercial space regulatory provisions would also extend authorization of ISS operations through 2030. The Senate Commerce Committee favourably reported that bill in August, but is still waiting for action by the full Senate. A House bill, the Leading Human Spaceflight Act, would also extend the ISS authorization to 2030, but has not moved forward since it was introduced by the House space subcommittee chairman, Rep. Brian Babin, on September 26th.

Time is limited for this Congress to approve those bills, as the next Congress is set to be sworn in on January 3rd. That limited available time will be devoted mostly to more critical legislation, like appropriations bills. Much of the government, including NASA, is operating under a continuing resolution that expires December 21st.

But, it’s possible Congress could start again next year and reintroduce those bills or similar measures, however, Nelson will not be in the Senate to support them. Nelson lost his bid for a fourth term in the Senate in November, losing to current Florida Gov. Rick Scott in a close race that called for a recount.

Nelson’s 20-minute speech mostly reflected on the changes in space policy during his tenure in Congress. For example, the development of NASA plans for human exploration beyond Earth in addition to a strengthened commercial space sector that has boosted launch activity at Cape Canaveral.

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