Today is a busy day on Capitol Hill, with presidential science advisor John Holdren appearing before the House Science and Technology Committee this morning and the Commerce, Justice, and Science subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee this afternoon to talk about the overall R&D budget, including likely some discussion of NASA. Meanwhile, NASA administrator Charles Bolden will appear at a hearing of the Science and Space subcommittee of the Senate Commerce Committee, with several other witnesses testifying on a separate panel, all on the change in direction for the agency contained in the FY 2011 budget proposal.
While much of the political reaction to NASA’s new plan has been negative, some key people have recently spoken out in favor of it. In an essay in The Huffington Post, New Mexico governor Bill Richardson supported the agency’s new emphasis on commercial spaceflight for transporting cargo and crew to LEO. “This is a win-win decision; creating thousands of new high-tech jobs and helping America retain its leadership role in science and technology,” he writes. Also endorsing the plan is former NASA Ames director Scott Hubbard, in an op-ed in today’s San Francisco Chronicle. “This move from government-specified vehicles to the equivalent of buying an airline ticket has startled and dismayed many present and former NASA employees and contractors,” he writes. “Nevertheless, it is exactly the right move. It is past time for NASA to get out of the transport and trucking business.”
As you might expect, opponents of the budget proposal aren’t exactly swayed. “Now, the administration is willing to throw away 50 years of progress on a suborbital taxi cab that places the US further behind China and other nations who are willing to make the investments we used to because they understand the importance of human space exploration,” Rep. Pete Olson (R-TX) said in a speech on the House floor on Tuesday during a section of one-minute speeches by House members. “It a path to second place for the United States.” In a separate speech, Rep. Bill Posey (R-FL) decried NASA’s plans to reach out to Indonesia and other Muslim nations. “It looks to me like the administration is looking out for everyone except our own space workers,” he said.
Bolden, meanwhile, has responded to a letter from over two dozen House members claiming he was breaking the law by trying to wind down Constellation in the current fiscal year. “While you have received reports that NASA managers have instructed members of our teams to begin closeout activities on the Constellation Program, I have directed no such actions and have found no evidence that Constellation managers have issued such directions,” Bolden said in a letter sent to one of the members, Steven LaTourette (R-OH). Bolden did say he has directed the agency not to begin new Constellation work not currently under contract. The “tiger teams” created by the agency are necessary, he said, to prepare for all budget scenarios, including ones where Constellation is canceled.
The letter appeared to ease LaTourette’s concerns about NASA’s work. Bolden “answered our concerns and questions,” he told the Cleveland Plain Dealer. “The contracts aren’t on hold, and he recognizes this program has value. I’m looking forward to working with him through the appropriations process.”