Press Release

Funding Will Be Key Determinant of America’s Human Space Flight Future, Committee and Witnesses Agree

By SpaceRef Editor
September 15, 2009
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Funding Will Be Key Determinant of America’s Human Space Flight Future, Committee and Witnesses Agree

Today, the House Committee on Science and Technology held the first Congressional hearing to examine the summary report of the Review of U.S. Human Space Flight Plans Committee that was established by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) under the direction of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, and to consider implications and related issues for NASA.

The panel was asked to identify alternative courses that the U.S. might pursue in the area of human spaceflight, including the current plan, the Constellation program. Members queried the chairman of the review committee on its assessment of the Constellation program, which has been in place for four years and has passed a number of major technical milestones, and were told that it represented a viable exploration option if adequate funding were provided. One of the panel’s most important overall findings was that “Human exploration beyond low-Earth orbit is not viable under the FY 2010 budget guideline.”

“At this point, my focus is on the future and finding the best path forward,” said Chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN). “NASA has been working for more than four years on the Constellation program, a development program in support of which Congress has invested billions of dollars over that same period. I think that good public policy argues for setting the bar pretty high against making significant changes in direction at this point–that is, there would need to be a compelling reason to scrap what we’ve invested our time and money in over these past four years.”

“I have to say that I am extremely frustrated, in fact, I am angry,” Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics Chairwoman Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ). “With all due respect to Mr. Augustine and his panel, I have to say that I think we are no further ahead in our understanding of what it will take to ensure a robust and meaningful human space flight program than we were before they started their review. Probably the most important finding of the Review of U.S. Human Space Flight Plans is the panel’s determination that there is a serious mismatch between the challenges that we have asked NASA to meet and the resources that have been provided to the agency. In other words, we can’t get anywhere worth going to under NASA’s projected budgets. But we didn’t need an independent commission to tell us that. That’s been painfully obvious for some time now. And the impact of that shortfall is that the good work being done by NASA’s civil servants and contractors risks being undone.”

Members and witnesses agreed that NASA needs to have funding matched to the missions the nation has asked of the agency if it is to succeed.

“I have made no secret in recent years of my belief that the resources given to NASA haven’t kept pace with the important tasks that we have asked NASA to undertake,” said Gordon. “That has caused significant stresses in recent years, and we can’t continue down that path. We either have to give NASA the resources that it needs or stop pretending that it can do all we’ve put on its plate. That’s especially true for NASA’s exploration program, and it’s true for the rest of its important missions too.”

The Committee will review the full report, which is anticipated to be out by the end of the month.

SpaceRef staff editor.