Prior to the passage of S.3729 in the House last week, science committee chairman Rep. Bart Gordon (D-TN) has indicated that he planned to “continue to advocate to the Appropriators for the provisions” in the “compromise” version his committee drafted but never voted upon. Late Friday committee leadership, including Gordon, ranking member Ralph Hall (R-TX), space subcommittee chair Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ), and subcommittee ranking member Pete Olson (R-TX), sent letters to the key members of the appropriations committees in the Senate and House outlining their views on what the committees should do to provide “further clarification and direction” to the language in the authorization bill.
A summary of the key points in the effectively identical letters from Gordon et al.:
- They expressed concern about the “$500 million unfunded mandate that requires NASA to keep the Shuttle program going through the remainder of FY 2011″ even though the additional shuttle mission would likely take place three to four months before the end of the fiscal year.
- On the HLV provision included in the bill, they argued that “NASA should determine the best approach for the future human space flight and exploration program”, worried that the “very prescriptive” Senate language on the HLV design will result in a vehicle too big for ISS crew transport missions and too small for exploration beyond LEO. They also express confusion about when the system is supposed to be ready: while the bill requires the “multi-purpose crew vehicle” (aka Orion) to be fully operational by the end of 2016, “the bill is not clear about the goal of having a fully capable launch system based on existing exploration program investments able to serve the ISS no later than December 31, 2016.” (The bill does state that, for the HLV, “Priority should be placed on the core elements with the goal for operational capability for the core elements not later than December 31, 2016.”)
- They state that while they support the development of commercial cargo and crew capabilities, any funding appropriated for those programs “should be given to first providing the funding needed for the proposed Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program… and that this need should be prioritized over commercial crew capability funding at this time.”