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As Florida’s U.S. Senate debate came to a close, sitting Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson glanced at his notes, gestured to his opponent and lobbed a final missile.
"We have a great pride in this state in our space program," Nelson began, turning toward Republican Challenger U.S. Rep. Connie Mack IV. "My opponent is the only member of the Florida delegation that voted against a bill to help NASA."
Mack was so busy fending off other Nelson attacks during that Oct. 17 debate, he didn’t respond to the accusation about the NASA bill.
That’s why we decided to launch a probe (sorry!) into this claim.
Nelson was referring to the NASA Authorization Act of 2010, a sweeping compromise of a bill that authorized a drastic change of direction for the space program.
Among other things, the $58 billion law, which Nelson helped pass, directs NASA to contract out low-earth orbit to private vendors so the government can work toward going to Mars and establishing a permanent human presence in space. The law also directs NASA to restart its technology development program and, when possible, work with international partners.
A review of the congressional voting records show Mack voted against the bill, and he was the only Florida representative to do so.
That part of Nelson’s claim is solid.
But Nelson’s statement also implies that a vote against the NASA bill is a vote against the space program. And that’s where we see some nuance.
S. 3729 was the subject of fierce arguments about the direction of the space program. And former Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, whose husband is an astronaut, was among those who opposed it.
Mack has supported several other NASA bills, but opposed this one because of concerns with spending and the direction of the program, Mack consultant Gary Maloney said.
"Connie Mack joined Gabrielle Giffords and others in opposing Barack Obama's attempt to restructure NASA, essentially building a $35 billion 'rocket to nowhere,' " said Maloney, referring to the powerful "heavy-lift rocket" that sets the stage for visiting asteroids and Mars. "Bill Nelson supported Obama's plan with no defined mission or destination for NASA going forward."
Scott Pace, director of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University, said Obama put forth the original plan for the direction of NASA, which Congress rejected. But the Senate used that foundation to craft its own plan, which squeezed past both chambers.
"Some House members were okay with it, some weren't for a variety of reasons," Pace said.
NASA publicly supported the bill. And, after it passed, NASA administrator Charles Bolden showered it with praise in the blog for The Hill, a congressional newspaper.
"The plan invests more in NASA, preserves the life of the International Space Station, launches a commercial space transportation industry, fosters the development of path-breaking technologies, and helps create thousands of new jobs," Bolden wrote.
The law also helps secure a bright future for Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, which is working with private contractor company SpaceX to launch rockets, said NASA spokesman David Weaver.
"This was the compromise plan for moving space exploration forward in America," he said.
Nelson claims Mack opposed a bill to help NASA.
And it’s true that Mack was the only member of the Florida delegation to vote against the NASA Authorization Act of 2010.
But there’s a sprinkle of nuance we just can’t ignore.
While NASA supported the bill as a new and exciting path forward, many members of Congress had concerns about whether it charted the right path for the space program.
Even space policy experts agree that a vote against that legislation isn’t necessarily a vote against the space program.
We rate the claim Mostly True.
Final votes for roll call, United States House of Representatives, accessed 10/31/2012
S. 3729, bill summary, National Aeronautics and Space Administration Authorization Act of 2010, accessed 10/30/2012
Interview with Gary Maloney, Mack consultant, 10/31/2012
Interview with Scott Pace, director of The Space Policy Institute at George Washington University, 10/30/2012
The Hill blog, "NASA bill passes House by 304-118," 09/30/2010
Interview with David Weaver, NASA spokesman, 11/01/2012
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