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National Aeronautics and Space Administration Authorization Act of 2005

Location: Washington DC



Mr. FRANK of Massachusetts. Mr. Chairman, I salute the work of the committee. I know that the ranking member has done an excellent job, the chairman has been a diligent supporter of science and of scientific freedom and I admire that, but I do want to express my profound disagreement on policy terms with much of this bill.

Mr. Chairman, we have held up for years now a transportation bill, literally years, because we are quarreling over the amount of money. To commit billions of dollars to go to Mars when we are not providing the funds for Americans to go from one city to another is simply a waste of money. The Mars money is in a zero-sum situation, and to commit $3 billion now, I am told, and billions more in the future to go to Mars when day after day when appropriations bills come up we are told, no, we can't do enough for housing and we can't do enough for health care, and the appropriators say, look, we agree with you, it's a good program we're cutting, we wish we had more, but we then set aside billions for Mars.

Indeed, I think this is a fundamental debate that the country ought to have. I hope we will see a bill that will put this question about whether or not we commit these untold billions to go to Mars coming at the expense of other important programs before us.

On this whole question of our priorities, I was struck on July 7 by a very thoughtful editorial in USA Today, with which I agreed, which called for a diminution of human space and more of the sort of scientific space travel that has in fact been so beneficial. Under the General Leave, I am going to insert this as well as a rebuttal from Mr. Griffin, but I believe, particularly now, that we have to talk about the priorities. These are not separate entities. The money that goes, the tens of billions that are being committed to go to space travel, come at the expense of cleaning up Superfund sites, of building transportation, of providing health care and providing housing. The country may decide in context to go forward with that, but we need to have that decision put before us in an explicit way.

Public Support Can't Fly if Manned Flights Remain Costly and Aimless

NASA's Deep Impact probe, which smashed into a comet Monday, was a big hit. In fact, it was a billion hits. That's how many computer ``hits'' NASA's website recorded in just 24 hours around the event.

This deep interest in Deep Impact is illustrative of a new reality that the human space program confronts as it gears up for next week's planned return of the shuttle. Robotic probes, once the domain of pointy-headed academics, have become NASA's new stars.

The probes have always generated more science. Now they generate more enthusiasm and romance. They are cheaper, faster and more exciting. They go farther and stay longer. They explore the frontiers of the cosmos.

What's more, they make better use of the pre-eminent technology of our times, the Internet. Thanks to signals sent back by the Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity, the Red Planet has been ``visited'' a little more than 670 million times since January of last year.

When and if astronauts arrive there, the product they provide the Internet consumer will be, in many respects, inferior. No sooner would they arrive than attention would shift to getting them home safely. Rovers, on the other hand, plow on, month after month, sending data, living off nothing but sunshine.

For its 22-year history, USA TODAY has been an avid supporter of the human space program. We continue to believe it should be maintained for such a day when engineers find a way of bringing down its costs, making more ambitious projects possible.

But it's impossible to deny its current status as a cure for insomnia. The International Space Station, its main focus for the past decade, orbits in near oblivion. The shuttle doesn't really go anywhere. Sadly, it makes headlines only when its flights end in tragedy. The launch of Discovery, scheduled for Wednesday, night generate attention, but only because of its novelty as the first in more than two years. President Bush's plan for sending astronauts back to the moon and on to Mars, announced in 2003, was met by public apathy and unfavorable polls. Having pushed budget deficits to the moon, he also has no plan to pay for it.

Nevertheless, Bush and Congress seem oblivious. They are intent on a vision whose main impact is not to explore space but to channel money to aerospace companies and bureaucracies.

NASA is embarking on a costly shuttle replacement program, when far cheaper options exist. This project is being undertaken in the name of Bush's moon-Mars plan, an iffy prospect at best.

Even now, in the early stages, almost two thirds of NASA's budget, a little less than $10 billion annually, goes into human space programs--the shuttle fleet, the Space Station and Bush's plan.

NASA, to its credit, did come up with an elegant and cost-effective way of continuing the human space program without having it eat up most of its funding. The so-called Orbital Space Plane was to have been lifted into space atop existing commercial rockets. Alas, the idea was too good to survive. Lawmakers representing aerospace contractors

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and major NASA employment centers made sure it died.

That has left the space program on a costly and uncertain trajectory. The shuttle replacement might get built by 2014, or even 2010, as some people hope. Or it might end up like the X-33 and the National Launch System, two programs abandoned when their costs became clear. The moon-Mars idea is even more problematic, requiring increasing allocations of money from future presidents.

What does appear certain is that lawmakers will pump vast amounts of money into a directionless human space program just as the public's attention has shifted away.

That's too bad. After watching Deep Impact and other robotic missions of late, it's clear that NASA's science division has become a veritable hit machine. It would be fascinating to see what it could do if set loose.


We, Not Robots, Know What We Need From Our Travels, Discoveries
(By Michael Griffin)

Within the lifetime of a baby born this Fourth of July--the day NASA's Deep Impact spacecraft collided with the comet Tempel 1 (late on July 3 in the western USA), and also the 1,705th consecutive day of human occupancy onboard the International Space Station--human pioneers will build outposts on the moon and Mars, extract minerals from large asteroids and construct huge space telescopes to map the details of continents on distant planets.

This is the space program NASA will pursue, based on the premise that a robust program of human and robotic space exploration will help fuel American creativity, innovation, technology development and leadership.

If history demonstrates anything, it is that those nations that make a commitment to exploration invariably benefit. Because of Britain's centuries-long primacy in the maritime arts, variations on British systems of culture and government thrive across the globe. I believe that America, through its mastery of human spaceflight, can shape the cultures and societies of the future, in space and here on Earth, as the great nations of the past have shaped the cultures of today. This future is being purchased for the 15 cents per day that the average taxpayer currently provides for space exploration.

Spaceflight is a continuation of the ancient human imperative to explore, discover and understand; to settle new territory and to develop new ways to live and work. We need both robotic pathfinders and people in our space journeys. As capable as our robots are, a human explorer can move over new territory far more quickly than a robot, assess and interpret the local environment, and make unexpected discoveries. In all other human activities, we complement, but do not supplant, ourselves with our machines. Why should it be any different in space?

As with all pioneering journeys into the unknown, spaceflight is risky. Next week, if all goes well, we will launch seven courageous astronauts on the Space Shuttle Discovery. A successful mission would give us greater confidence we can fly the shuttle safely through its planned 2010 retirement, then move on into a new era of exploration.

It is inconceivable to me that this nation will ever abandon space exploration, either human or robotic. If this is so, then the proper debate in a world of limited resources is over which goals to pursue. I have little doubt that the huge majority of Americans would prefer to invest their 15 cents per day in the exciting, outward-focused, destination-oriented program we are pursuing.


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