Science Democrats Urge Administration to Let NASA Get On With Developing The Nation's Future Human Space Exploration Vehicles

Press Release From: House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology Democrats
Posted: Tuesday, July 12, 2011

image (Washington, DC) - Today, the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology held a hearing entitled, "A Review of NASA's Space Launch System." The purpose of the hearing was for the NASA Administrator to explain why the agency has failed to reach a decision on the architecture for the Space Launch System, what analyses still need to be completed, and when final acquisition decisions will be made.

Three successive NASA Authorization Acts since 2005, enacted by both Republican and Democratic Presidents and Congresses, have directed NASA to undertake a program of human exploration beyond low Earth orbit. The most recent of those Authorization Acts, last year's NASA Authorization Act of 2010, directed NASA to develop a heavy-lift launch vehicle known as the Space Launch System (SLS) and a multipurpose crew vehicle (MPCV) to be used to enable crewed missions to destinations beyond low Earth orbit as well as provide a backup capability for cargo and crew transportation to the International Space Station (ISS). As directed in the 2010 NASA Authorization Act, NASA provided a report to Congress in January 2011 on the SLS and MPCV, albeit a preliminary one. Earlier this year, a senior NASA official testified before the Committee's Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics that a decision on an integrated launch system was targeted for June 2011. That decision has yet to be received by the Committee.

In her opening statement, Committee Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) told Administrator Charles Bolden that she expected him to be on the receiving end of a lot of unhappiness and irritation on the part of many Members and added "That's unfortunate, because the fault doesn't lie with you. It's my understanding that you have had a plan ready to announce for some time, but you haven't been able to get the final okay to make it public." Congresswoman Johnson added "That said, it is now past time for a decision and a plan to be announced." She urged Administrator Bolden to "strongly convey to those in the Administration who are dithering that it is time to move forward and let NASA get on with the tasks that the nation has asked it to undertake. At this critical juncture, we need to move ahead expeditiously to build the Space Launch System and Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle in a way that makes use of the human spaceflight skills and knowledge-base NASA has worked so hard to achieve and that inspires the next generation of explorers, engineers, and scientists."

Reflecting on NASA's challenge of meeting congressional expectations in an atmosphere of reduced funding, Congresswoman Johnson stated "And to those of my colleagues on the Majority side who are critical of the Administration's stewardship of NASA, I also hope that you will convey to your colleagues in Congress that NASA cannot do what we are asking it to do if its budget keeps getting cut. The proposed House CJS appropriation level for NASA is one that, if enacted, will simply add more stress to an agency and dedicated workforce that is already trying to do "more with less", and at the end of the day will put America on a path to relinquish its space leadership."

In his statement for the record, Acting Ranking Member of the Committee's Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee Jerry Costello (D-IL) echoed Congresswoman Johnson's concern about the need to come to grips with a final SLS decision. He stated: "It is very clear that this Committee strongly supports NASA moving forward as quickly and efficiently as possible to develop our next generation human spaceflight transportation systems, SLS and MPCV. It is critical that we solidify and focus these programs in the near term so we do not lose the talented aerospace workforce that is facing an uncertain future with the end of the Shuttle Program. While we have a vision for what the future of NASA's mission is, we need to move confidently to get there. The Administration and NASA must lead the way."

Administrator Bolden told the Committee that NASA has been working expeditiously to complete assessments of SLS design options and develop a final integrated proposal for the MPCV and SLS. He said that he has ordered a "sanity check" on NASA's cost and schedule estimates and that such analysis is scheduled to be completed in the late July/early August timeframe. Administrator Bolden said that under the President's budget plan, NASA is hoping to be able to launch an initial uncrewed test flight of an integrated early version of the SLS and the MPCV as early as 2017. A crewed mission, based on the President's FY 2012 request, would occur by the early 2020s, the Administrator said in his prepared statement.

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