House Vote Could Stabilize NASA's Future

With time running out before a mid-term recess, a compromise deal that could save thousands of jobs at NASA and re-direct the space agency's future is on the table on Capitol Hill tomorrow. As Jack Williams reports, the House is set to approve a senate bill that would mean small victories for both the president and supporters of NASA's manned space program.

The House had hoped for a better deal, but with the clock ticking on the current session, members are expected to sign-off on a Senate bill that was approved in August. The compromise includes less money for the commercial spacecraft industry than the president wanted, but it basically scraps NASA's return-to-the-moon efforts. It also extends the space station program and adds another space shuttle flight. Democratic Congressman Gene Green says something is better than nothing.

"We had a house bill that I think was much better, but we can't chance it going back to the Senate with Congress leaving this week and not coming back until after the election and we would see a lot more layoffs at Johnson Space Center particularly and also at other NASA facilities, so we're trying to keep that from happening." 

The potential deal is good news for NASA contractors, who still plan big layoffs on Friday, but not as many in the long term if the compromise bill is passed. Bob Mitchell is the president of the Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership.

"If we can get this thing passed I think that we're going to be able to save about 350 jobs. We're too far along in the process right now to be able to not have those layoffs on October 1st simply because of the Warn Act that's required. So we're too late for that, but the positive in all of this is that this will stop layoffs in January and February and March. We could have had as many as 2000-3000 more if we didn't get a bill passed."  

Republican Congressman Pete Olson of Sugar Land has led the House effort to save as much of the space program as possible. He says his only worry now is the President won't offer guidance to Democrats in the House before the vote.

"If the administration doesn't step-up and tell the majority, the Democrats in Congress to support this bill, if they waver and sent some mixed signals to them, they could possibly scuttle the bill. And I can assure you that we're working very hard up here in Washington on my side of the aisle to make sure we have all the Republican support we possibly can get. We need the administration to work with us to make sure the majority of the Democrats support this bill, we get the two-thirds majority necessary for it to pass and we provide certainty to our tremendous employees and contractors at the Johnson Space Center."   

If approved, the bill would also offer some much-needed guidance for NASA, which was thrown off course earlier this year when the President outlined his vision for a leaner, smaller space agency that would depend more on commercial ventures for manned space flight. 

Bio photo of Jack Williams

Jack Williams

Director of News Programming

News Director Jack Williams has been with Houston Public Radio since August of 2000. He's also a reporter and anchor for Houston Public Radio's local All Things Considered segments...