Hearing Notes: Charles Bolden Testifies on NASA's FY 2013 Budget

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NASA Administrator Bolden testified before the House Appropriations Committee Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related AGencies today on the NASA FY 2013 budget. Here are some nots from that hearing.

When asked if he had read a recent government report on China's space capabilities Charlie Bolden said he had not because Rep. Wolf had asked him to steer away from China. Wolf said "its OK to read books on the topic.". Bolden did agree with the findings from a report by Gen. Burgess about China's attempts to get U.S. dual-use technology.

Bolden made frequent attempts to defend the Administration's cuts to planetary science - at one point saying that part of the justification included an assessment that the Mars program was doing well. In essence Bolden said that not doing missions better positioned NASA to do these missions. He also said that NASA had never signed on to do ExoMars and that no sample return mission was ever on the books. Rep. Schiff was totally angered by this and accused Bolden of using "Orwellian language" saying "canceling flagships does not mean you are pushing ahead with the Mars program. It is exactly the opposite". Schiff also admitted to being perplexed by Bolden's statement that "the Mars Program was in the best shape" as part of the rationale for cutting that same program.

Bolden was repeated pushed by Rep. Schiff to tell him who had originally proposed cutting Mars missions. Bolden never quite answered that question, suggesting lots of people were involved, but did say that the decision to eventually make the cut was his. When pushed as to whether OMB and OSTP were calling the shots Bolden said "I do not take direction from any other agency - just the President. I do not take direction from OMB or OSTP.

Bolden was asked multiple times about the commercial crew program. Specifically he was read a quote by Rep. Wolf from Phil McAllister at NASA wherein he said that the NASA commercial crew program "was not worth doing if the full $800 million was not there". When he was asked if he agreed with that statement, Bolden said he did not. Bolden was asked how he could justify a commercial crew program that would start flights in 2017 and only have a 3 year period whereby it could service the ISS (which is only funded to 2020. Bolden replied that he hoped and expected funding to be extended beyond 2020. His response to asking what Plan B was if the commercial providers could not meet the 2017 date was to say having more than one provider was the answer.

Bolden was reminded by Rep. Culbertson that NASA was directed by law to follow the National Academy's Decadal Plan for planetary exploration. Bolden tried to wiggle out of that. Culbertson then asked "What portion of NASA funding should we withhold to get you to follow the law?" Bolden replied that NASA is following the law.

When asked by James Webb Space Telescopes' JCL standard rating was only 66% when the agency's standard was 70%. Bolden said that the original costs for Webb were "figments of someone's imagination" and that they have tried to adapt Webb costs to the new NASA standards.

At one point Rep. Fattah was talking about "Alzheimer's-like effects that happen in space but disappear when astronauts come home." A moment later Bolden seemed to be claiming that much of the world's knowledge about osteoporosis was because of ISS research and teared up when he was asked to put a dollar figure on the value of ISS research. I have more than a passing familiarity with life science research in space and this exchange left me baffled. Clearly no one in NASA legislative affairs ever seeks to get expert advice on what the ISS really does nor do they seek to correct members of Congress when they say things that are not accurate.

When asked about CASIS, the non-profit organization chartered to manage the U.S International Laboratory on the ISS, Bolden did not know what the history behind CASIS was (how or why it was formed), did not know how many people worked there, and would not give a grade for its performance thus far. When Rep. Wolf noted that the Director of CASIS had quit recently and that this was like "the captain leaving the ship" Bolden said "they're just getting started". Rep. Wolf suggested that NASA needs to look at CASIS carefully saying "if they are not with it in 30-45 days we should pull it and give it to NSF". Bolden replied that a letter was being sent to CASIS to remind them of their milestones and "if they they do not meet milestones we will find another way".

When asked how he was going to ask for an INKSNA waiver to buy more Soyuz spacecraft - and that the last extension was done via an Appropriations Bill Bolden declined to respond and said that there were concerns and that he'd have to get back to Wolf.

When the issue of destinations came up Bolden said that if you were to ask the astronauts in NASA's Astronaut office where they'd like to go "you would hear 'Moon' because they want to fly somewhere". Anywhere else is "outside the reach" of astronauts currently at NASA according to Bolden.

When Wolf mentioned the recent NASA IG report on computer security and the spate of incidents, Bolden said that he was going to sign a directive and that all portable devices would use encryption. He said he should have known better and that it was his fault that this had not been implemented sooner. Bolden said that he had talked to his staff and that when compared to other agencies IT security that NASA was "woefully deficient". Bolden also said that most attacks are "by kids who are just trying to impress people". Bolden said that his IG had told him that it would be a simple matter for him to tell his staff to encrypt everything - but his staff is spread across NASA and each center has different requirements. When Rep. Wolf asked Bolden if he needed Congressional language to direct him Bolden said "OH, NO NO" and that he had enough direction already.

At one point (as part of 10 minute diversion in a FY 2013 budget hearing) Bolden said that none of the locations that submitted bids to house a space shuttle on display had facilities to display the shuttle, Moments later he said that Seattle and the National Air & Space Museum had existing facilities.


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