Hutchison lauds NASA reauthorization bill

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) praised the recently passed NASA reauthorization bill on Thursday, claiming it will provide clear direction and a new path forward for the nation's space program.

The bill, which passed the Senate in August and the House in September, significantly alters the landscape of America's space program by moving resources away from the space shuttle program and toward the commercial space industry. President Obama is expected to sign the bill into law this week.

“This is a crucial period for our vaunted space agency and our nation’s proud heritage of innovation,” Hutchison said. "Only months ago, NASA was at a crossroads as the administration’s NASA proposal poised America to surrender its half-century of leadership in space exploration. Our nation’s manned spaceflight program was approaching extinction just as the International Space Station was finally nearing completion."

Obama's original plan for NASA included the elimination of much of the Constellation program, which is largely based in Houston. Hutchison's vocal opposition, along with that of Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), helped two key portions of the Constellation program, the Orion crew capsule and a heavy-lift rocket designed to travel to Mars, survive the cuts. But most of NASA's human spaceflight program will be shut down when the space shuttle is retired after one final flight next year.

"This new direction will allow America again to reach for the stars and put its best and brightest minds back to work trailblazing a path into the future,” Hutchison added.

Hutchison joined Texas lawmakers including Reps. Pete Olson (R) and Gene Green (D) at a press conference at Johnson Space Center in Houston on Thursday afternoon to mark the passage of the bill. In total, more than 6,000 jobs in the Houston area are tied to the space shuttle and Constellation. Hundreds of layoffs are expected when work on Constellation contracts winds down later this year.