House panel advances bill to ‘restore balance’ to NASA

The House Science Committee approved a two-year NASA policy bill on Thursday that aims to refocus the space agency away from studying the Earth, and instead force it out toward the stars.

The party-line, 19-15 vote highlights an ideological fracture over the future of the space agency and hints at the partisan divide over the role of federal agencies in responding to climate change.

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“For more than 50 years, the U.S. has led the world in space exploration,” Chairman Lamar SmithLamar Seeligson SmithFive Republican run-offs to watch in Texas GOP lawmaker says rocks falling into ocean to blame for rising sea levels Singer Jason Mraz: Too much political 'combat' in Washington MORE (R-Texas) said in a statement after the vote.

“We must restore balance to NASA’s budget if we want to ensure the U.S. continues to lead in space for the next 50 years. And we must continue to invest in NASA as the only government agency responsible for space exploration.”

The new bill would cut the amount of money NASA can spend on Earth science by more than $300 million. Funding for planetary science would tick up slightly, from $1.3 billion in 2014 to $1.5 billion.

Meanwhile, the authorization bill increases funding for space operations and commercial crew initiatives.

“The bill balances exploration and science, and restores true balance to the science division,” said Rep. Steven PalazzoSteven McCarty PalazzoHouse panel advances bill to ‘restore balance’ to NASA House passes NASA reauthorization Palazzo defeats former Dem in primary MORE (R-Miss.), the lead sponsor of the bill and chairman of the Space and Aeronautics subcommittee.

Democrats have opposed the move, maintaining that studying the Earth is a part of NASA’s mission. Additionally, they note that while other agencies may be tasked with monitoring the oceans, soil and weather, they don’t have the same technological capabilities as NASA.  

In an op-ed in The Hill on Wednesday, committee ranking member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas) wrote that is was “hard to believe that in order to serve an ideological agenda, the majority is willing to slash the science that helps us have a better understanding of our home planet.”

The NASA authorization bill “has been made captive to ideological fervor at the expense of thoughtful compromise.”

— Updated at 5:08 p.m.