The Senate has rejected an attempt to remove the NASA lunar lander clause from the authorization measure

Senators voted decisively against a motion introduced on May 4 which would have hampered NASA’s attempts to select a second business to produce the Artemis lunar lander. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) proposed removing a portion authorizing money for the HLS (Human Landing System) program and requiring NASA to promote at least two firms from a conference committee together with the House on the USICA (United States Innovation and Competition Act). The law was passed by the Senate in June, but it now needs to be reconciled with a House bill that lacks NASA authorization wording.

Sanders claimed that the clause was going to serve as a handout to the second richest man globally, Jeff Bezos, who is the Blue Origin’s founder, who was among the bidders in the initial HLS contest won by Elon Musk-led SpaceX in April of 2021, in brief remarks on the Senate during a discussion on the bill on May 4. “We can offer $10 billion to Jeff Bezos, the country’s second-richest man and owner of the space enterprise Blue Origin,” he remarked. “It doesn’t make much sense to provide $10 billion to the country’s second-wealthiest individual.”

According to the bill, Bezos does not receive $10 billion. Instead, the section of the measure Sanders sought to repeal permitted $10.032 billion for the fiscal years 2021 to 2025 to execute the broader HLS program, with “not fewer than two companies” supported. Annual funding would be required, with $928 million set aside in the fiscal year 2021 plus $1.195 billion set aside in the fiscal year 2022, mostly to sustain the SpaceX HLS contract.

In 2023, NASA sought almost $1.5 billion for HLS, with money going to a second business to begin work on a distinct Artemis lunar lander. Blue Origin is one of the numerous firms that have expressed interest in competing in NASA’s second award competition, which is now underway. NASA plans to announce the winner in early 2023.

The motion’s opponents underlined the importance of competitiveness in the HLS program. “NASA understands that competition improves us. On the Senate floor, Senator Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) said, “That’s why they requested us to finance this second supplier for the lunar lander.  “The Sanders motion would smash American inventiveness and the Artemis program,” according to Sanders.

Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Washington), the Senate Commerce Committee chair, stated, “This is about safety, redundancy, and us authorizing the Artemis program.”  Sanders was skeptical, stating that the competition was going to be Blue Origin vs. SpaceX, which is owned by Elon Musk, the country’s richest man. He questioned, “Is it really the sort of space program which the American people want?” “I don’t believe so.”

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