When Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) director John Holdren testified before the House Science Committee four days after the release of the administration’s FY2013 budget, the first question he was asked by committee chairman Rep. Ralph Hall (R-TX) was about NASA’s ability, or lack thereof, to require Commercial Crew Program companies to meet NASA safety requirements. The Space Act Agreements used under the first two rounds of the program, as well as for the new third round announced last month, prevent NASA from strictly requiring companies to meet those standards. However, NASA argues, it’s in the best interest of companies to meet those standards in order to be eligible for later contract awards where compliance with them will be required. (Holdren, clearly unfamiliar with that level of detail about the program, simply said that “if there is a problem in the agreements that would jeopardize that, I am sure we will fix it.”)
Several members of Congress are now asking Holden and the Obama Administration to do just that. Seven members of the House—Pete Olson (R-TX), Steven Palazzo (R-MS), Lamar Smith (R-TX), Randy Hultgren (R-IL), Steven LaTourette (R-OH), Mo Brooks (R-AL), and Ted Poe (R-TX)—signed a letter submitted to Holdren on Wednesday on this topic. “We have serious concerns about the Administration’s course of action with the commercial crew program,” they write, after summarizing the exchange in the February 17 hearing. “It is inexcusable for the Administration to spend hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayer funds on these nascent systems without the ability to define and impose the necessary requirements to ensure the health and safety of astronaut crews.” They ask Holdren to take “immediate action” if crew safety is, in fact, being jeopardized.
The letter also separately asks Holdren to expedite any request for the extension of NASA’s current waiver from the Iran North Korea Syria Nonproliferation Act (INKSNA) so that it can continue to purchase Soyuz seats and obtain other services from Russia to support the ISS. NASA officials indicated last month that such a request would be forthcoming in the near future, but the congressmen asked for the proposed extension as soon as possible “in order to ensure that Congress has the time to take the necessary action on this important request this year.”