A draft version of Senate’s NASA budget has been released. More commentary to come.
Update. From what I can tell by a quick scan through the actual proposed legislation [pdf], the Senate will give the administration most of the money it wants for commercial space, but also demand that it start work on a heavy-lift replacement of the shuttle immediately, including the full size version of the Orion capsule. However, the language requiring this latter action is very vague (“as soon as possible after the date of the enactment of this act”) and leaves the administration a great deal of wiggle room. From my experience, this means that Congress is trying to create the illusion that it has done something, but is basically leaving the decisions to the administration.
The draft language does forbid any contracts being issued for any new private commercial crew services until the 2012 year, which suggests that Congress wants NASA to focus on the Orion capsule and heavy lift option first. However, to me this merely means the Obama administration is being given the option to stall for a year and then come back again later with the same proposals it offered back in February of this year. That the draft legislation also gives NASA 120 days to put together its plan for its heavy-lift program only increases my doubts about Congress’s seriousness.
Overall, this legislation only confirms my worst fears. If passed as is, both the new private commercial space ventures as well as the government space program will suffer.