House Passes Measure Extending Commercial Space Learning Period

Capitol Building
UPDATE: The Senate passed the measure, so Congress has six more months to do the work it failed to do over the past 12 months. Legislators also appear ready to pass a continuing resolution that will keep the government function at FY 2015 spending levels until they get around to passing a budget. So, shutdown averted, moratorium extended, and Congress remains as dysfunctional as ever. 

Remember when you were back in high school, and you had this term paper due, and you’d procrastinate and put it off and come up with every excuse to do anything but work on it? And then it would time to turn it in, and you’d go and beg your teacher for an extension because…well, you needed one and you were a good student and stuff?

Well, Congress is a lot like high school. (If you have any doubts, just spend a few hours watching floor debates on C-SPAN.) Each year at this time, our esteemed legislators are literally hours away from the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30 and haven’t done much of anything all year. Spending bills are not reconciled, and unless they do something quick, the government will shut down and all sorts of regulations and other things will expire at midnight.

Congress being both weak and divided and mighty and powerful, it’s capable of giving itself an extension for its own dysfunction. Legislators are working on continuing resolution, which will fund the government temporarily until the parties gets around to resolving its differences — and extending all sorts of various authorities.

One of them will extend the learning period on commercial human spaceflight for six months, until March 30. The extension is part of a package of FAA-related items in a bill passed by the House of Representatives today.

The extra time will allow legislators to reconcile whether they want to severely limit the FAA’s regulatory authority over the industry for another five years (as the Senate wants) or 10 years (as the House measure does).

That’s assuming the Senate gets around to passing the measure by the end of September. Even if the authority lapses, FAA officials have said they have no immediately plans to begin regulating the industry.