A letter to President Obama signed by 30 members of the House of Representatives calls on the White House to provide more details, and support, for human space exploration. The letter, dated March 21 and released Monday, expresses concern about “shifting priorities for NASA and the resulting mixed signals this sends relative to the United States’ dedication and commitment to its leadership role in human deep spaceflight exploration,” adding that leadership is threatened by “the expansion of human spaceflight programs in countries such as China and Russia over the past decade.”
“We urge you to chart and clearly state a vision and timeline for the nation in deep space exploration,” the letter requests of the President. The letter stops short, though, of calling for a specific direction, such as a human return to the Moon or acceleration of NASA’s existing long-term plans to send humans to Mars by the mid-2030s. Instead, the letter focuses on the technological and educational benefits of investment in space exploration. “We look forward to working with the Administration to strengthen human spaceflight exploration in our budget commitment,” the letter concludes. “Working together, we can chart a course for space exploration worthy of our great nation.”
The letter is signed by 30 members of the House, 14 Republicans and 16 Democrats, with Reps. Steven Palazzo (R-MS), chairman of the House Science Committee’s space subcommittee, and Donna Edwards (D-MD), ranking member of that subcommittee, as the lead signers. Other signatories to the letter include Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), chairman of the full House Science Committee. Notably absent, though, are the committee’s ranking member, Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), chairman emeritus Ralph Hall (R-TX), and vice-chairman Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA). The chairman and ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee subcommittee that funds NASA, Reps. Frank Wolf (R-VA) and Chaka Fattah (D-PA), are also absent from the letter.
Interestingly, the press release jointly issued by Palazzo and Edwards emphasizes support for the Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion programs at NASA, although neither are mentioned by name in the body of the letter. (A reader notes that they are mentioned in the subject of the letter: “Re: NASA Space Launch System and Orion”.) The letter, they state, is “in support of NASA’s Space Launch System and Orion as part of prioritizing human space exploration within NASA’s budgets,” although there’s only a reference in the letter’s opening sentence to support for “a safe, focused and expeditious return of American astronauts to deep space exploration on an American rocket launched from American soil.” Palazzo, in his statement in the joint press release, says he will do “everything in my power to restore that focus to NASA’s budgets as we revisit these matters in the NASA Authorization Act later this year.”