Yesterday the House Budget Committee took testimony from fellow members of the House on various issues as it prepares work on a budget resolution for fiscal year 2012. That included a statement from Rep. Bill Posey (R-FL), who spoke out on the need to fully fund NASA’s human spaceflight programs, cranking up the rhetoric in the process.
Posey’s statement followed familiar themes: NASA’s human spaceflight program was adrift thanks to the Obama Administration’s decision to cancel Constellation, with implications for American leadership and national security, even while the administration sought increase spending on climate change research and commercial spaceflight. And he sought to make those points with blunt language.
“By failing to set priorities within NASA’s budget, the Administration has left NASA with no priorities,” he said. “Should Congress fail to step in where the Administration has left a leadership void we will be making an unacceptable compromise in our national security and lose economic and intangible benefits from our space program.”
Among his other statements, he claimed that China and Russia “have announced plans to colonize the Moon–they are not going there to collect and study rocks like we did.” What they are going to do is left to our imaginations, but it was clear he was playing up the military significance of space: “Human space flight is a matter of national security. Space is the world’s military high ground, our Golan Heights if you will.” Later, he warns of the consequences of “one day without your cell phones, one day without your laptops, one day without a weather report, one day without your GPS, one day not being able to use your credit card or withdraw cash from the bank,” all made possible by satellites (but not related to human spaceflight).
Posey, in his statement, claimed that the administration’s 2012 budget proposal “is a substantial departure from the Authorization Bill that he signed into law in October–cutting $2 billion from the heavy lift program while increasing taxpayer subsidies for the low earth orbit commercial space companies.” While the administration does fund the Space Launch System below authorized levels, the source of the $2 billion figure isn’t clear: in the 2012 proposal SLS would receive $1.8 billion, compared to the 2012 authorized level of $2.65 billion.
There are some real issues worth debating about the agency and its budget proposal, such as what kind of human spaceflight program it should have, including launch vehicles and spacecraft, and how much funding it should receive. However, it’s not clear that statements like Posey’s do much to advance the debate, particularly when the heavy lifting on these issues will be done not by the budget committee but instead by appropriators months (perhaps many months, if FY11 is any guide) from now.