Today in a hearing of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee to review the fiscal year 2012 budget proposal for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), Members expressed numerous concerns to Administrator Charles Bolden over funding priorities.
"I am concerned that the future of our space program is in serious jeopardy," said Committee Chairman Ralph Hall (R-TX). "With the retirement of the Space Shuttle, NASA faces a critical period and needs to focus its limited resources to sustain our leadership in space. As everyone knows we are in a challenging budget environment. In times like these it is more important than ever for NASA to have credible, realistic plans that can be understood and defended.
Hall continued, "In the area of human spaceflight, I am concerned about having assured access to the International Space Station (ISS) for the U.S. and our international partners so it can live up to its promise as a vital research laboratory."
Congress last year passed the NASA Authorization Act of 2010, which represented a compromise on several contentious issues and incorporated funding guidelines that could allow the space program to move forward. Specifically the Act provided $10.8 billion over three years for the newly-designated Multi Purpose Crew Vehicle and Space Launch System to assure the capability to supply and support the ISS for the U.S. and our international partners, in case commercial proposals fail to materialize. With regard to Commercial Crew, the Act authorized $1.3 billion over three years for activities to advance the development of commercial crew services. The bill was signed into law in October 2010.
However, over the next two years the President's request underfunds development of manned exploration accounts by more than $2.4 billion, a 31 percent decline from the Authorization. At the same time, the President's request increases funding for Commercial Crew by more than $700 million, a 70 percent increase. Several Members questioned Administrator Bolden on these funding levels, saying that they expect NASA to abide by the policy direction and funding limitations in the law.
Chairman Hall has long supported the development of commercial capabilities as a worthy goal, but not at the expense of ensuring a safe reliable system to get American astronauts into space. Discussing the NASA Authorization Act, Hall said, "Commercial crew was not ignored, but to be perfectly clear, it was not -- and is not -- Congress' first priority. Yet the Administration's FY2012 budget proposal completely flips the priorities of the Act, significantly increasing Commercial Crew funding while making deep cuts to the Human Exploration Capabilities accounts which Congress clearly intended to serve as our assured access to space."
When asked about the significant reductions in the human exploration accounts, Administrator Bolden said that it was his belief that commercial entities represent "the best way to get astronauts to the ISS on American-made rockets."
Chairman Hall also reiterated his disapproval of the decision to cancel Constellation. In his opening remarks, Hall said, "Despite repeated requests from former Chairman Gordon and myself, NASA never provided the basis for its cost estimates or a credible plan showing how the needs of the U.S. and our international partners could be met at a lower cost or on a faster development cycle than Constellation."
In defending the President's request, Bolden said that NASA's "foremost priority is our current human spaceflight endeavor -- the International Space Station -- and the safety and viability of the astronauts aboard it." Bolden also said that he still expects commercial crew capabilities to be available by 2015 -- 2016.
For more information on the hearing visit the Science, Space, and Technology Committee website.