From: House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology
Posted: Wednesday, March 24, 2010
Good afternoon. I want to welcome our witnesses today. Both Mr. Doug Cooke and Mr. A. Thomas Young have long and distinguished careers in aerospace, and we look forward to gleaning from their decades of knowledge on the subject. Mr. Cooke has agreed to give us answers to the many questions that have been raised concerning the President's budget proposal, but it is understood that he is not the architect of this plan.
I have called this hearing today because we have a serious issue to address--the future of America's human space flight program--and we need to get it right.
The clock is ticking. It is now almost two months since the Administration's FY 2011 budget request for NASA was submitted to Congress, and there are still too many unanswered questions surrounding it.
We are here today because the President's budget has been found deficient by this Congress and by the American people. It proposes drastic changes in the future of NASA with tremendous impact on high skill jobs and high tech manufacturing capabilities. It could leave our country with no human exploration program, no human rated spacecraft, and little ability to inspire the youth of America. The budget proposal does all this with few details to support its new direction.
This hearing is but the latest in a series that have been held by the committee on science and technology and this subcommittee. It is our job and responsibility to ensure that American taxpayer dollars are spent wisely. We must be certain that existing programs are worthwhile and well managed, and we must be fully informed of the impacts of the cancelation of programs.
Over the past few months we have held many hearings to address safety concerns for human spaceflight, the competition of international space programs, and the impact of NASA's programs on the skilled aerospace workforce and industrial base. We have also heard from the Government Accountability Office and NASA's Inspector General. And just last month NASA Administrator, General Charlie Bolden testified on the FY2011 budget request.
Unfortunately, the NASA Administrator was unable to satisfy many of the members of this committee. Today we are going to continue to take a closer look at the elements of the proposed plan and try to get additional information--to the extent that such information exists.
We are also going to examine the impacts and consequences that would flow from its adoption--some of those impacts are quite profound and troubling.
Today we're also going to review the status of the current Constellation program, which just passed a significant design milestone, and we will determine whether the intent of Congress expressed in the FY 2010 appropriations act is being met.
This oversight is the purpose of this subcommittee hearing, and we intend to be thorough.
The fact of the matter is that Congress is being asked to support a budget request that proposes cancelation of the Constellation program. Cancelation of a successful program that has been underway for the past five years. Cancelation of a program that has met significant milestones and would keep the United States as the world leader in aerospace. We have been asked to support a budget request that will leave this country without a government system to access low Earth orbit and beyond.
In cancelling this program, we would write off $14 billion in taxpayer dollars spent, with no apparent plan to make any significant use of the results of that investment. We would make this country dependent on yet-to-be developed "commercial crew" services of unknown cost and safety, with no government-backup system available; we would very likely be forced to rely on other nations to access low Earth orbit and the International Space Station for the foreseeable future. We would be left without a concrete plan, destination, or timetable for exploration missions beyond LEO. Additionally, this cancellation would negatively impact the nation's defense industrial base and would eliminate the program that would ease the transition for the Space Shuttle workforce and help retain key human space flight skills and industrial capabilities needed for the future.
In place of good explanations and solid rationales for such sweeping and frankly puzzling changes, we have been given a combination of unpersuasive arguments and "we're working on the details" responses.
For instance, the commercial crew proposal is lacking all of the basic information that a would-be investor would demand before committing funds to a project. For example:
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