Commerce Committee approves NASA compromise

Portions of the Constellation program including the Orion crew capsule and a heavy-lift rocket designed to travel to Mars appear likely to survive in some form, thanks in part to the efforts of Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchinson (R-Texas) and Bill Nelson (D-Fla.). Both were vocal in their opposition to Obama's plan to completely outsource human spaceflight. The three-year blueprint also makes substantial investments in the commercial spaceflight industry but also moves up the timetable for developing the long-range vehicle.

"This legislation approved today represents a strong balance between the need for investment in new technology and the continued evolution of the commercial market to take an increasing role in supporting our efforts in low Earth orbit," Hutchinson said.

She also took a shot at President Obama's original plan for its dependence on the private sector, claiming it would have would have "ended the era of U.S. dominance in space exploration, threatened the use of the International Space Station, and jeopardized manned space flight."

NASA deputy administrator Lori Garver said the Senate bill “really would accomplish the major shift that the president laid out in his plan.”

“This is way beyond what we had hoped for, the ability to come into agreement with Congress this soon,” Garver told the New York Times

The bill includes $1.3 billion for commercial space flight through 2013, well short of the President's proposal. Bretton Alexander, president of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation said the bill must increase those funds and praised Sens. Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Barbara Boxer (D-Cali.) for supporting an amendment that would do so.