NASA’s commercial crew program and the Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion programs have been sources of heated debate on Capitol Hill that last couple of years. But, as both efforts make progress, could the tensions that often pit the two programs against one another be easing? Not necessarily, based on comments from a couple members of Congress this week.
Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-AL) expressed to the Huntsville Times this week his disappointment with the administration’s fiscal year 2014 budget request, citing NASA in particular. The funding requested for SLS, $1.385 billion, is below the FY12 budget’s nearly $1.5 billion (although it is similar to what the program will end up with in FY13, once final rescission and sequestration cuts are applied and any operations plans changes are implemented.) He also complained that NASA’s proposed asteroid retreival mission “does not commit to using SLS to get there and has no clear time frame or cost estimate,” the Times reported. (NASA has, in fact, suggested sending astronauts to the captured asteroid in cislunar space in 2021 on EM-2, the first crewed SLS/Orion mission, although specific mission architectures and cost estimates are still under development.)
And what about commercial crew? Aderholt told the Times that, given his perception that SLS was not being adequately funded, the administration’s request for $821 million for commercial crew “is not defensible.”
Late Friday, the House Science Committee’s Democratic Caucus issued a press release from Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD), ranking member of the committee’s space subcommittee, marking the 32nd anniversary of the first Space Shuttle launch. (The press release doesn’t show up on the caucus’s web site as of Saturday morning.) After recounting the shuttle’s history, she turned her attention to the future, in particular calling for an acceleration of SLS and Orion:
Under current plans, the first crewed flight of Orion/SLS is scheduled for no earlier than 2021—a ten year hiatus in NASA human spaceflight capability. That’s a long time, and I hope that Congress and the Administration can work together to help NASA accelerate the achievement of that capability.
There’s no mention in her statement about how to fund an acceleration of those capabilities, and also no mention of commercial crew, which could return orbital human spaceflight capabilities to NASA (albeit on vehicles owned and perhaps operated by American companies) in 2017, under NASA’s current schedules.