Press Release

Subcommittee Democrats Urge Clarity and Realism in NASA’s Exploration Plans

By SpaceRef Editor
March 30, 2011
Filed under ,
Subcommittee Democrats Urge Clarity and Realism in NASA’s Exploration Plans

Tie Successful Execution to Stable Funding and Policy

(Washington, DC) — Today, the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology’s Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics held a hearing to review NASA’s exploration program as it transitions toward the development of the new launch and crew exploration systems directed in the NASA Authorization Act of 2010 [P.L. 111-267]. At the hearing, the head of NASA’s Exploration Systems Directorate, a space policy expert, and an industry representative were questioned by Subcommittee Members on the pace of NASA’s progress in moving forward with designing a space transportation system within the parameters of the Authorization Act.

In his opening remarks, Acting Subcommittee Ranking Member Jerry Costello (D-IL) said, “Through the 111th and 112th Congresses, this Committee has held several hearings to discuss the future of NASA’s exploration program as it faced budget challenges and considered serious changes to its mission. Despite these ongoing discussions, we still have not received concrete answers on how NASA plans to transition away from the Constellation Program and achieve the goals outlined by Congress in the 2010 Authorization Act.” Mr. Costello identified four areas where clear answers were lacking and in which he hoped to get more information , namely (1) the status of NASA General Counsel’s review of how existing Constellation contracts can be modified to carry out work on the crew capsule and heavy lift launch vehicles, (2) an exact timeline and date for when NASA will start work on the new vehicles, (3) evidence that the vehicle programs have a real future at the current funding levels, and (4) concrete goals and benchmarks to measure the program’s success.

NASA’s Douglas Cooke said that NASA understands the direction provided by the NASA Authorization Act of 2010 and is honoring those requirements. And while the agency has not yet finalized its development plans for the Space Launch System and Multipurpose Crew Vehicle, Mr. Cooke told the Subcommittee that NASA “is working expeditiously to ensure it has a credible and integrated plan with which to move forward.” He also said that NASA recognizes that Congress wanted more information than the agency was able to provide in a January 2011 interim report and identified late June as the timeframe the agency is targeting for providing Congress with a final report.

The Director of George Washington University’s Space Policy Institute, Dr. Scott Pace, told the Subcommittee that the greatest risks to the aerospace industrial base and workforce associated with the transition from Constellation to the Space Launch System program are those arising from policy instability and the lack of a basis for predictable decision-making by NASA and industry.

In his capacity as Chairman of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics’ Corporate Membership Committee, Mr. James Maser said that the aerospace industry, which directly supports more than 800,000 jobs nationwide, is imperiled by the lack of a clear space policy. Mr. Maser, who is also the President of Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne, explained that the uncertainty that the current space policy imposes on the industrial base creates unique problems for the nation, such as harming the industry’s ability to recruit future workers because students who are currently enrolled in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs will be wary of entering an enterprise that lacks a clear direction and mission.

Following the hearing, Mr. Costello summarized the proceedings in the following way:

“We wanted to use this hearing as an opportunity to get more definitive answers from NASA on the future of human space exploration. In the NASA Authorization Act, Congress provided a direction for NASA to transition its human exploration program after the Space Shuttle retires this year, but NASA has not provided sufficient detail on how it plans to achieve those goals or how its projected budgets will impact those plans. While we still need more clarity on many points, today’s conversation moved this process forward. In a time when we have to do more with less, careful and realistic planning is even more critical. If our plans do not correspond with our ability to pay for them, we run the risk of misusing these scarce resources, which can affect the entire aerospace industry. Our message to NASA is simple: we need straightforward and clear projections on what is possible in human exploration.”

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SpaceRef staff editor.