While NASA’s revised human spaceflight plans won’t be released in detail until Monday’s budget announcement, what has been announced has been enough to generate some strong, almost visceral reactions from members of Congress. For example, yesterday afternoon Rep. Suzanne Kosmas (D-FL) dismissed what has been revealed about those plans as “simply unacceptable” in a press release:
Though we are still awaiting the full budget details scheduled to be released next week, I am deeply concerned by what Administration officials have said about the President’s proposal for NASA. I agree with extending use of the International Space Station and I am a strong supporter of commercial spaceflight, but I do not think we can rely on commercial flights alone for access to space and the ISS. If we are not moving forward with a specific vision for a next generation vehicle, then we need to take steps to safely extend the Shuttle program in order to fully support the Space Station.
I also firmly believe that a robust space exploration program is critical for our economy and for inspiring future generations to excel in science and technology for the 21st Century. The President’s proposal would leave NASA with essentially no program and no timeline for exploration beyond Earth’s orbit.
The President pledged that he would minimize the spaceflight gap, but without a plan for exploration beyond research and development, he is threatening to turn the gap into an abyss with no end in sight. The Space Coast and communities across the country have been looking to the President for leadership and a bold vision for the future of space exploration, and after months of delays he seems to be falling short. It is simply unacceptable and I will fight back, along with my colleagues from both parties, to maintain a robust space program and to preserve as many Space Coast jobs as possible.
The White House isn’t getting much love from Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), who also deems elements of the plan “unacceptable”:
Based on initial reports about the administration’s plan for NASA, they are replacing lost shuttle jobs in Florida too slowly, risking U.S. leadership in space to China and Russia, and relying too heavily on unproven commercial companies.
If the $6 billion in extra funding is for a commercial rocket, then the bigger rocket for human exploration will be delayed well into the next decade. That is unacceptable.
We need a plan that provides America with uninterrupted access to space while also funding exploration to expand the boundaries of our knowledge.
Those members who have taken the time to comment about the plan—only a few, to be certain—have almost uniformly been critical of what is known about the plan, and we have not publicly heard from others who, based on past comments, are likely to be critical of it, like Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL). The closest thing to an endorsement is from Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), who told the Cleveland Plain Dealer yesterday that expansion of other aeronautics and space programs would “more than compensate for the loss of Constellation”.
This raises a key question: who will champion the new human spaceflight program in Congress once it’s formally released? The new plan may be Congressional crosshairs as soon as Wednesday, when the House Science and Technology Committee’s space subcommittee holds a hearing on “key issues and challenges” for NASA. Which members of Congress will step forward to support the plan? Without such support, the prospects for this new approach don’t look good.
Update 1 pm: A Floriday Today article also has what appears to be bad news:
Sen. Barbara Mikulski, a Maryland Democrat who heads the Senate Appropriations subcommittee that funds NASA, said that if reports of Obama’s plans for NASA are true, “I’m troubled.” Mikulski represents NASA’s Goddard Space Center.
The article doesn’t indicate if Mikulski elaborated on what part of the plan that’s been revealed so far she found “troubling”. However, since she chairs the Senate appropriations subcommittee whose jurisdiction includes NASA, she is an important player in the coming debate.