Yesterday’s Orlando Sentinel article about plans to cancel Constellation was remarkable: while it didn’t say anything that was that surprising (the cancellation of Ares 1, development of commercial crew transportation providers, and a shift to a “Flexible Path” architecture all had been rumored to be in the works for weeks), the article was influential enough that it got the White House and NASA to officially (if largely anonymously) to respond and confirm many of the details.
The article also got several members of Congress to issue statements yesterday about potential changes. (Most of these statements were issued before the follow-up article last night, although that may not mollify many of their concerns.) Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) issued a statement that was relatively mild. “I would strongly oppose any further cuts to human space flight funding that would make the United States dependent on foreign nations for manned space access,” she says. “I will be working with my colleagues in the Senate to provide additional guidance to NASA in conducting its human space flight planning and in developing the congressional response to the President’s budget, after it is submitted to the Congress.”
Rep. Pete Olson (R-TX) was a little more strident in his opposition to potential changes. “If recent reports regarding the future of the Constellation program and the direction of NASA are true, then the President could not be more wrong to consider canceling it. The Constellation program is the best means for America to remain the global leader in human space flight,” he stated. “I will be working steadfastly with my colleagues to ensure that this short sighted proposal is not the final answer on the future of NASA.”
Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), who is often described as an advisor to the White House on space issues, wanted to hear more from the president in last night’s State of the Union address. “On the downside, we’re going to have to get the president to do more for NASA. America’s global leadership in science and technology is at stake if we don’t maintain a more robust space exploration program. I’m still hopeful we’ll be able to do that.”
Louisiana’s two senators, Mary Landrieu (D) and David Vitter (R), also expressed concern about potential changes, particularly given their effect on the Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans. “As a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, I will review and analyze the president’s budget in detail and ensure that the Michoud facility in New Orleans east remains a viable player within NASA, whatever its future holds,” Landrieu said. Vitter, meanwhile, called the potential cancellation of Ares “devastating” for Michoud. “Instead, we should develop a heavy-lift capability for human space flight that builds on existing shuttle-based technologies in a very cost-conscious way. But we should do that now, not just talk about it vaguely for the future and lose all of our human capital and expertise at Michoud and other centers.”