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Press Releases :: May 26, 2010

Committee Reviews, Questions NASA’s Proposed Human Spaceflight Plan

(Washington, DC) – Today, the House Committee on Science and Technology held a hearing to examine the proposed National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Human Spaceflight Plan and to review issues related to the budget, cost, schedule, and potential impacts of the plan.  Testimony was given by NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, Apollo 11 commander Neil Armstrong, Apollo 17 Commander Capt. Eugene Cernan, and former executive vice president of Lockheed Martin Thomas Young. The Administration’s FY 2011 budget proposal includes drastic changes to the United States human spaceflight and exploration programs. This is the third hearing held by the Committee to discuss this plan since the budget’s release in February 2010. 

“The task before us today is to determine if the Administration’s plan actually is doable under the Administration’s proposed budget—that it actually is ‘executable’ and truly puts NASA on a ‘sustainable path’. It does no good to cancel a program that the Administration characterizes as ‘unexecutable’, if that program is simply replaced with a new plan that can’t be executed either,” stated Chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN).
Most notably, the budget proposes to cancel the Constellation Program, which was established to first provide assured access to the International Space Station (ISS) for American astronauts, and then the capability to undertake exploration missions beyond low Earth orbit to the Moon and other solar system destinations. While various new initiatives and goals are being offered as justifications for the Administration’s proposed human spaceflight program, the budgetary constraints NASA is facing make it critically important for Congress to determine whether the proposed plan is executable, well defined, and worth doing. Members and witnesses evaluated the merits and workability of this new plan as they highlighted the unanswered questions that remain on various aspects of the proposal.
“The plan that has been sent over to Congress has a great many loose ends and unexamined assumptions that call its credibility into question,” stated Gordon.
“Nearly four months after the initial rollout of the budget and after an addendum by the president on April 15th, Congress still is unable to get answers to basic questions about the proposed plan,” stated Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee Chair Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ).
The budget request also includes the proposal to extend the use of the ISS through 2020 for research and testing purposes. However, important information and plans are still lacking that are needed to ensure that the infrastructure, plans, and resources will be in place to support the ISS extension and utilization.  
NASA plans to rely on commercially provided cargo transportation services for ISS resupply starting in the 2011 timeframe and proposes to use as-yet-to-be-developed commercially-provided crew transport services by 2016 as well. This proposal has raised significant issues about human spaceflight safety standards and enforcement that were first examined in a December 2nd, 2009 hearing held by the Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics.
Members were also concerned about the lack of information regarding the Advanced Technology Initiatives, plans for the Heavy Lift Launch Vehicle, and impacts to the human spaceflight workforce and industrial base. Congress needs details on the basis and justification for the funding levels proposed for the technology programs as well as an understanding of the priorities for the programs. Members also expressed the need for more information and clarity as to the timeline, costs, and funding structure for the proposed Heavy Lift Launch Vehicle. Although the Administration has proposed a number of steps to address workforce issues, there has been an overall lack of clarity to date on how the workforce initiatives will work in an integrated fashion.
“The task today was to convince this Committee that this is truly a well-thought out, responsibly budgeted, executable plan. Unfortunately, many of these issues remain unresolved and serious questions exist about the plan’s executability,” concluded Gordon.
For more information on the Committee’s work on NASA and Space, visit the Committee’s website.
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