Status Report

Members Express Concerns Over Future of Human Space Flight at NASA

By SpaceRef Editor
May 19, 2009
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The Committee on Science and Technology today held a hearing on the President’s Fiscal Year 2010 (FY10) National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Budget Request. At the hearing, Republican Members expressed concerns to acting NASA Administrator Christopher Scolese over insufficient funding to develop the next generation manned launch vehicle in a timely manner after retirement of the Space Shuttle. Similar concerns were expressed by a number of Members on both sides of the aisle at a hearing last week with Dr. John Holdren, President Obama’s science advisor.

“NASA is one area of the federal budget where I think some increases are justified,” said Science and Technology Committee Ranking Member Ralph Hall (R-TX). “As I said to Dr. Holdren last week, I am very concerned that priorities may be shifting away from human space exploration at a very critical time.”

While NASA’s proposed FY10 budget is $18.7 billion, an increase of 5.1% over the enacted FY09 appropriation for NASA, the budget projection beyond FY10 is essentially flat through FY13. Several members expressed concern that this budget has deleted nearly all of the out-year funding for the Altair Lunar Lander and for the heavy-lift Ares 5 launch vehicle necessary to support exploration missions beyond low Earth orbit.

Discussing his concerns over the out-year funding of the Constellation program, Ranking Member Hall said, “The Exploration program needs stability and growth and cannot be the bill-payer for the rest of the agency.”

NASA plans to fly the remaining Shuttle missions, including an additional flight to deliver the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer to the Space Station before retiring the Shuttle. The Orion and Ares 1 are not expected to be ready before 2015 at the earliest. In the resulting gap, the U.S. stands to lose a highly skilled workforce and a number of accompanying parts suppliers and other contractors, while making cash payments to Russia to ferry our astronauts to and from the International Space Station.

At the request of the White House, a review will be conducted by a panel of outside experts chaired by Norman R. Augustine to determine a set of options for the future of human spaceflight at NASA. The panel will examine ongoing and planned NASA human spaceflight development activities, as well as potential alternatives for advancing human spaceflight following retirement of the Shuttle. While Mr. Scolese said that “major development work is underway” in completing the formulation phase of the Constellation Program, when asked whether the Administration’s proposed $3 billion cut to the out-year budget would affect the projected 2020 return to the moon, Mr. Scolese said he did not know and he hopes the review panel might better evaluate this projection.

In regard to the review panel, Ranking Member Hall said, “There are many questions that should be answered including about whether to extend the International Space Station beyond 2016.” He said that the Space Station “is a valuable National Laboratory and we should be seeking new and innovative research to perform there well into the future.”

Hall continued, “While we do not need to add more money to the ballooning deficit, we should prioritize Federal spending on programs that yield great returns—and NASA is one of those programs.”

SpaceRef staff editor.