Committee Democrats Urge Sustained Support for Renewed Human Space Exploration Program

Status Report From: House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology
Posted: Thursday, September 22, 2011

(Washington, DC) - Today the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology held a hearing entitled, "NASA Human Spaceflight Past, Present, and Future: Where Do We Go From Here?" The purpose of the hearing was to assess NASA's human space exploration goals, plans and capabilities, and examine related issues affecting the Nation's leadership in space and the state of the aerospace industrial base.

The last three NASA Authorization Acts exemplify Congress's longstanding commitment to human space flight. In the NASA Authorization Act of 2005, Congress endorsed the Vision for Space Exploration and established several milestones for its implementation, including returning Americans to the Moon no later than 2020 and eventually exploring Mars and other destinations on a timetable that is technically and fiscally possible. The NASA Authorization Act of 2008 reaffirmed support for a human exploration initiative, as well as affirming the national imperative of having independent access to space. Enacted last year, the NASA Authorization Act of 2010 authorized the development of a heavy-lift launch vehicle and a multipurpose crew exploration vehicle.

Last week, NASA's Administrator announced that the President had given the agency formal approval to move forward on development of the Space Launch System (SLS). According to NASA, the SLS will be designed to carry the Multiple Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV) with its crew of astronauts, as well as important cargo, equipment and science experiments to Earth's orbit and destinations beyond. Additionally, the SLS and MPCV will serve as a backup for commercial and international partner transportation services to the International Space Station.

With agreement now reached between Congress and the Administration on the general architecture of NASA's new human exploration vehicles, emphasis should be on efficiently implementing that architecture and securing sustained support for the exploration program. In her opening remarks, Committee Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson [D-TX] said, "America's human space flight program has always been about much more than simply building rockets and space capsules and launching astronauts into space. It is also about inspiring people--both young and old; it is about providing a peaceful and positive demonstration to nations around the world of American technological preeminence; it is about developing cutting edge technologies for our human space missions that also benefit our citizens and create new jobs; it is about motivating our young people to pursue careers in science and engineering by providing them with the challenging future that is inherent to space exploration; and it is about advancing our knowledge."

Congresswoman Johnson stressed that, "The benefits of investing in human space flight are clear and compelling, and ones that can justify making a sustained commitment to moving forward on our next steps in exploration. Because that is what we should be talking about--determining how much we are willing to commit on an annual basis to maintain a credible and forward-looking human space flight and exploration program--and not continually revisiting the question of whether we should have one at all. Successive Congresses and Presidents from both parties have already answered that question in the affirmative--it's now time to move on."

Stating that he was pleased that the decision on an architecture had been made, Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee Acting Ranking Member Jerry Costello (D-IL) said that in moving forward, Congress will need to examine how the program will be implemented, including the objectives and destinations for human exploration beyond low-Earth orbit. Furthermore, while noting that the inspirational value of human space exploration cannot be underestimated, he expressed interest in hearing witnesses' views on potential objectives and destinations for human space exploration "that would best maximize the use of the MPCV and SLS while continuing to inspire our nation."

Michael Griffin, Eminent Scholar and Professor at the University of Alabama in Huntsville and former NASA Administrator, expressed his view, "This nation needs a real space program...The current NASA program--development of MPCV and SLS--represents the minimum possible investment in rebuilding the capability needed to begin the establishment of a permanent human presence beyond Earth Orbit."

Dr. Maria Zuber, Department Head of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said, "As a space scientist and educator, I am an enthusiastic supporter of the human exploration of space." Pointing out that as an educator she had learned to "never tell a young person that what they want to do is impossible," Dr. Zuber offered advice to NASA on carrying out its exploration program: "NASA should do what I do with these students. Start working on those parts of the challenge that are possible to address within the constraints that exist and keep moving forward..."

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