As relations between the United States and Russia continue to be strained by the crisis in Crimea, Congress is being briefed on its potential implications for space activities, a key member of Congress said late Monday.
“NASA officials have been briefing some members of Congress over the last few days on U.S. plans and options should relations between the two nations deteriorate,” states a press release issued by the office of Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), chairman of the space subcommittee of the Senate Commerce Committee. The release didn’t specify what those “plans and options” are.
Nelson used the release to argue for “properly” funding NASA’s commercial crew program. “We’ve got to properly fund and support commercial space flight so we can keep our space program alive and well, no matter happens with Russia,” Nelson said in the statement. Nelson’s office said the senator is a “proponent of additional funding” for the program beyond the $696 million it received in fiscal year 2014; the FY2015 budget requests $848 million for the program. The release stated at Nelson will meet with Kennedy Space Center director Bob Cabana Tuesday afternoon “to get the latest updates.”
[A spokesperson for Sen. Nelson emailed Tuesday to clarify that the senator is not seeking to take money from other NASA programs to fund commercial crew, but to increase overall NASA spending to accommodate both commercial crew and SLS/Orion.]
However, commercial crew doesn’t have similar statements of support from other members of Congress. Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL) told the Huntsville Times that while commercial crew is one way to get American astronauts to orbit, the Space Launch System (SLS) “is more important for long-term access and national security,” according to the report.
Brooks was upset with the FY15 budget proposal’s request of $1.38 billion for SLS. “I would like to see SLS receive a minimum of $1.6 billion for vehicle development in FY 2015,” he told the Times. “Anything less than $1.6 billion delays SLS availability.”
Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) has similar views, telling the Times that he feels commercial crew is properly funded despite the growing concerns about access to the ISS should relations with Russia deteriorate. “Vice Chairman Shelby will continue to fight for SLS because it’s the only viable option for America to maintain its leadership role in human space flight,” said a statement provided to the newspaper, referring to Shelby’s position as the top Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee.