A day after NASA announced that the first SLS may not be ready for launch until as late as November 2018, two key members of the House Science Committee asked NASA for details on both the schedule and funding levels of the SLS and Orion programs.
In a letter released by the committee Thursday morning, Reps. Lamar Smith (R-TX) and Steven Palazzo (R-MS), the chairmen of the full science committee and its space subcommittee respectively, asked NASA administrator Charles Bolden for details about reports that both SLS and Orion were in danger of missing the planned December 2017 launch date for EM-1, the first SLS/Orion mission. The letter does not mention the KDP-C review that NASA announced Wednesday, but an earlier GAO report on SLS cost and schedule risks and recent comments by Orion program manager Mark Geyer that he will be “challenged” to make that December 2017 date.
In the letter, Smith and Palazzo suggest that NASA and the Obama Administration have not properly funded SLS/Orion development. “The Administration continues to submit insufficient budget requests for these vital programs,” they write. “Despite numerous statements over several years that these two national priority programs are sufficiently funded, it now appears that this may not be the case.”
Smith and Palazzo pose several questions to Bolden in the letter, including, “Will NASA be able to fly the SLS for Exploration Mission-1 in calendar year 2017?” If NASA isn’t able to, they ask what’s changed since previous testimony to the committee, including whether Bolden knew about the slip when he testified before the committee in March. (It’s worth noting that, in his prepared statement to the committee in March, Bolden said that “NASA is pressing forward with development of SLS and Orion, preparing for a first, uncrewed mission in FY 2018.” While that would include December 2017, fiscal year 2018 runs until September 30, 2018.)
“In fact,” Smith and Palazzo write, “despite NASA’s best efforts to keep these programs on track, it appears as though the Administration is starving these programs of funding and preventing important development work with the goal of pushing back schedules.” They seek responses to their questions from NASA by September 10.