Press Release

House Science Committee Democrats Appreciate Griffin’s Candor, Still Seek Answers on Agency Plans

By SpaceRef Editor
June 28, 2005
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(Washington, DC)  NASA Administrator Dr. Michael Griffin appeared today before House Science Committee on Space and Aeronautics to explain his plans for the agency’s future.

In his first testimony before the Committee since being named to the Administrator’s post in April, Dr. Griffin fielded a wide range of questions.  Democrats continued to sound the alarm on budget realities facing NASA and pressed for an explanation of what they mean for the agency’s exploration initiative and core programs.

Dr. Griffin made it clear to the Committee that his top priorities were returning the shuttle to flight safely and developing the Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV).  When Members asked for specifics on a broad range of agency plans, they were told that the agency would provide details later in the year.

Both Ranking Member Rep. Bart Gordon (D-TN) and Space Subcommittee Ranking Member Rep. Mark Udall (D-CO) reiterated their support for the President’s Exploration Initiative while expressing concern over the lack of details, as well as the initiative’s affect on NASA’s other central priorities like aeronautics, space and earth science, and university research.

“I must say I am concerned about where NASA is headed,” Ranking Member Gordon told Dr. Griffin.  “There are a growing number of key unanswered questions that remain almost 18 months after the President announced his exploration initiative.  There’s still no roadmap for achieving exploration goals, no accurate assessment of cost or long-term budgetary plans for projects like the CEV, Project Prometheus or the heavy-lift launch vehicle.  Let’s not repeat the mistakes of the past by rushing down a long road without a map.”

Rep. Udall agreed: “It’s not at all clear that the President’s aspirations fit the budget that has been provided to NASA.  One result of that mismatch is that the highly productive balance NASA has maintained for 40 years between its core pillars – space science, Earth science, aeronautics and human space flight activities – is at risk of being seriously damaged.”

Despite the immature state of the exploration initiative, Congress is being asked to support the exact funding levels for exploration goals in the FY2006 NASA budget request – nearly $3.2 billion – and cut other non-exploration programs in order to fund the initiative.  “We are being asked to make a ‘trust me’ vote on NASA’s funding request when plans are constantly changing,” stated Rep. Gordon.

Committee Democrats did not hold Dr. Griffin responsible for decisions made prior to his arrival, but policy announcements from his office imply that not all of the money allocated to NASA exploration programs since early 2004 has been wisely spent.  “That’s troubling, because even $100 million of that exploration funding could make a significant difference to the health of NASA’s aeronautics or Earth science programs,” added Rep. Gordon.

At a recent hearing of the Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee, every non-government witness agreed that NASA’s aeronautics programs have been negatively impacted by budget cuts and that the five-year budget outlook is bleak.  NASA’s Earth-Sun Systems, as well as research aboard the ISS, face an equally dismal future.  Additionally, NASA is cutting its funding for three national interagency research and development initiatives – nanotechnology, networking and information technology and climate change science.

“All we’re asking for is balance,” concluded Rep. Gordon.  “I’m concerned our current path risks damaging the productive programmatic balance at NASA that has benefited the nation since 1958.  I look forward to working with Dr. Griffin in the coming months to address these important issues.”

SpaceRef staff editor.