The House Science and Technology Committee has a pair of hearing scheduled next week that will feature, in part or in whole, discussion of NASA’s FY11 budget request and its change in direction. Presidential science advisor John Holdren will appear before the committee on the morning of February 24th to discuss the overall FY11 R&D budget proposal; that’s likely to include at least some discussion of NASA. The main event, though, will be the following morning, when NASA administrator Charles Bolden appears before the committee to discuss the agency’s budget request—and no doubt be grilled about the policy changes that proposal contains.
The chair of that committee’s space subcommittee, meanwhile, makes it clear she does not approve of elements of that new plan, particularly its scrapping of Constellation in favor or developing commercial systems to reach low Earth orbit. “I don’t like putting all our pace eggs into a commercial basket,” Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) told the Sierra Vista Herald. She said it’s “not a good idea” to rely on the private sector, telling the newspaper that she’s worried “the country’s national security could be harmed if private companies are given the opportunity to send missions into space”, without elaborating.
Giffords’s counterpart in the Senate, Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), chairman of the space subcommittee of the Senate Commerce Committee, is also planning a hearing next week featuring Bolden and another former astronaut, Hoot Gibson (that hearing has not shown up yet on the committee’s hearing schedule). Nelson tells Florida Today that he’s concerned that the White House has given the public the perception that it’s killing human spaceflight. “And I can tell you that we’re not going to let it die. That’s not the president’s intention.” Nelson also reiterated earlier comments that the new plan needs a goal, namely Mars. “[E]verybody knows the goal and that’s to go to Mars,” he said.
Another member of Congress sounding off in opposition to NASA’s new direction is Rep. Mike Coffman (R-CO). Coffman, whose district includes Lockheed Martin Space Systems’s facilities in Littleton, is, like representatives in other states, worried about the impact of ending Constellation on his district. “This program supports many high-paying jobs in the 6th District and throughout the country. Shutting it down directly jeopardizes those jobs and the families they support,” he said in a statement. Coffman is one of 27 signatories of a letter to Bolden about potential violations of law regarding NASA plans to wind down Constellation, although the letter identifies Coffman as being from Texas, not Colorado.
And a union, the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, is also concerned about the job losses associated with terminating Constellation. “At a time when the U.S. economy in mired in the worst recession in 70 years and is in desperate need of a jobs creation program your Administration’s proposal to have NASA rely on the private sector to develop and operate manned space craft will contribute to the loss of several thousand well paid domestics [sic] jobs,” R. Thomas Buffenbarger, president of IAMAW, states in a letter to President Obama published by the Orlando Sentinel. Relying on the private sector, he adds, could “compromise fundamental safety issues” nor can it “ensure the level of security that NASA exercises”. “The push to privatize space travel is similar to efforts to privatize other critical government services. These efforts are based on anti-government ideology and are promoted by companies that want to profit from government outsourcing,” he concludes.