By Reps. Gene Green, Al Green, John Culberson and Pete Olson.
With NASA's recent announcement of plans to move forward with the development of the Space Launch System (SLS), America now has the major elements in place to usher in a new era of human space exploration. In addition, Houston's Johnson Space Center (JSC) will remain a vibrant centerpiece of America's continued leadership in space.
JSC is leading the effort to develop America's next human exploration spacecraft and the world's first interplanetary human space vehicle -- the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV).
Last year, we wrote to the Obama administration insisting that it amend plans to cancel Constellation, the next generation program to replace the shuttle. We presented an alternative plan that would instead pursue the immediate development of Orion and a heavy-lift rocket capable of launching Orion beyond low Earth orbit. Further, we all worked with our colleagues on the committees of jurisdiction to ensure that legislation passed by Congress was consistent with these goals. With NASA's announcement on the Orion MPCV and last week's announcement on the SLS, we are pleased to say that our compromise has been adopted.
Orion continues to make tremendous progress. An Orion MPCV crew module is undergoing rigorous space environment testing. Work has begun to make the spacecraft ready for its first orbital test flight in 2013, and Orion is on track to support initial human operations in 2016/2017 -- consistent with direction from Congress in the 2010 NASA Authorization Act.
Just last week, NASA made the long overdue announcement that it will pursue development of the SLS. This is an essential element of maintaining America's commitment to exploring beyond low Earth orbit. This announcement strengthens our nation and ensures we will continue to be the world leader in space exploration.
Of course, there is always more to be done.
The science and precursor exploration research aboard the International Space Station, for example, was recently endangered by the launch failure of a Russian Progress resupply mission. Russia has responded swiftly, and we are cautiously optimistic that the issue will be resolved and we will avoid leaving the station without a crew for the first time in more than a decade. Nevertheless, this incident highlights why we must move with haste toward augmenting America's capabilities
It is also true that the moon/Mars focus of the Constellation program must be replaced with specific mission goals supported by space systems capabilities, program milestones and budget resources to accomplish them. We must move beyond vague statements about missions to asteroids and Mars in time frames that are too distant or undefined.
Finally, while we are pleased with the decisions regarding SLS and Orion, we will continue to push the Obama administration and NASA to maintain their commitment to go beyond low Earth orbit. Decisions must be made without delay and they absolutely must continue to use the talent, resources and facilities that we have in Houston instead of reinventing the wheel in some other area.
Houston is Space City, USA, and we plan to keep it that way.