21 October 2003 5:30 PM EDT: Vice President Cheney met with Senators today to discuss national space policy. The meeting lasted for half an hour minutes and broke up at around 3:30 PM. Present at the meeting were Cheney, 3 White House staffers, Sean O'Keefe, and Senators Nelson, McCain, Hollings, Breaux, and Brownback.
According to a source familiar with the discussion, Cheney told the Senators that he and the President would not set new space goals without the input of Congress. Cheney said that current White House discussions have focused on the appropriate role of robotic and human missions.
Sen. Hollings said that he wants to see a presidential commission established to look into space policy. He is reported to have said that "the space program is a mess." He added that he saw no use for the ISS or the OSP and is unconformable with relying upon Russia for access to the ISS. He told O'Keefe "you are not going to change NASA culture".
Update: Sen. Hollings' office contacted NASA Watch shortly after the meeting ended with the followig comments: "No Democratic member, including Sen. Hollings, expressed any lack of support for the future of human space flight, and Hollings, in fact, recommended the acceleration of the OSP. According to staff attending the meeting, all Senators sought to move beyond the current stasis of the space program and create a new national vision for space. Hollings concluded his comments by saying, "We need to achieve the art of the possible."
Sen. McCain hailed the accomplishments of Adm. Gehman and the CAIB, said that China’s recent Shenzhou 5 mission was a "direct challenge" to America, that not enough money has been going to NASA, and that he sees no future for the ISS or the Space Shuttle. Specifically, he asked that he be provided with an explanation of what the future of the Shuttle program is noting that if NASA does not provide the true cost of Return to Flight "there is a train wreck coming".
Sen. Nelson did not have a specific preference for a national space goal - just that whatever that goal is that there be enough money to pay for it. Moreover he said that the space program needs to be headed - or guided directly by the President and/or the Vice President.
Sen. Brownback said that NASA's manned program "is a failure". He added that great things were being done with robotic probes. He also expressed a lack of enthusiasm for the ISS and said that past failures indicates that NASA has no vision. Brownback said that such a vision is needed - that "America needs to return to the Moon and go on to Mars."
Sen. Breaux said that he felt that a national goal needed to be established and that this should focus on a reusable launch system with all the resources needed to do it right.
The meeting broke up after 30 or so minutes, and Cheney, O'Keefe, and Cheney’s entourage headed over to the House for a similar meeting (now underway) with House leaders. That meeting concluded at around 4:00 PM EDT