In a blog post Thursday, NASA administrator Charles Bolden discussed the new national space transportation policy and its implications for the space agency. “This plan codifies the current, bipartisan priorities of NASA and provides further direction to other Federal agencies in realizing the President’s bold vision for space,” he wrote, discussing the agency’s commercial cargo and crew initiatives.
He also discussed, towards the end of the post, the continued development of the Space Launch System (SLS) heavy-lift rocket and Orion crew spacecraft, programs enabled, he argued, by allowing commercial entities to take over more routine operations in low Earth orbit. “The President’s budget request fully funds NASA’s development of these next generation systems, which will carry U.S. astronauts on deep space exploration missions to an asteroid and Mars. Full funding of the President’s request will enable an uncrewed flight test of Orion in 2014 and the SLS in 2017.”
Last week, the day before the successful launch of NASA’s MAVEN mission to Mars, Bolden visited the facility at the Kennedy Space Center where that first Orion is being assembled for the 2014 uncrewed test launch on a Delta IV Heavy, emphasizing the progress NASA and Orion’s prime contractor, Lockheed Martin, were making on the spacecraft. “My next step for Orion, as NASA administrator, is to go back to Washington, go back to Congress, and said, ‘Look, we are making steady progress. We are delivering on the things we said we were going to do, we need your continued support,’” he said in a brief Q&A with media.
Later, Bolden was asked if that progress he and others emphasized on Orion was making it easier for him to make that case in Congress in an era of constrained budgets. He replied that it was, in fact, becoming harder because of sequestration. “Sequestration is unreasonable,” he said. “My hope as the NASA administrator is that the Congress and the administration find a way to get us out of sequester because that is damaging to the program we have going.”
Bolden also warned against another shutdown like the one that halted most NASA activities for more than two weeks last month, saying it would be “tragic” if another shutdown occurred. “These guys are working at a really nice pace, and they were really moving out and they were doing all kinds of things on the vehicle when we told them they couldn’t come into this building for 16 days,” Bolden said, referring to work on Orion. “We can’t afford to do that again.”