Legendary astronauts outline shortfalls of Obama spaceflight plan

In a hearing on Wednesday before the House Committee on Science and Technology, legendary Apollo Astronauts Neil Armstrong and Eugene Cernan, and former CEO of Lockheed Martin, Thomas Young, discussed their serious concerns with President Obama’s plan for building a successor to the Space Shuttle, which is scheduled to retire at the end of this year.

“From the very beginning it was clear that NASA’s proposal lacked the sufficient detail that Congress would need to determine whether it was a credible plan,” Rep. Ralph Hall (R-TX) said, “Yet, in spite of our best efforts to obtain more information from NASA this situation has not improved.  Indeed, the President’s trip to the Kennedy Space Center on April 15th only added to the confusion as he laid out more aspirational goals, but provided no clear idea of how they fit together or how he expects to pay for these new ventures.”

Former Apollo Astronaut Captain Eugene Cernan, USN (ret.), described the President's goals as “all worthwhile endeavors in their own right.” However, Cernan was extremely critical of the President’s plan for human space flight, saying that “nowhere [in the budget] do we find any mention of the Human Exploration of Space and nowhere do we find a commitment in dollars to support this all important national endeavor. We (Armstrong, Lovell and I) have come to the unanimous conclusion that this budget proposal presents no challenges, has no focus, and in fact is a blueprint for a mission to ‘nowhere.'"

Mr. Neil Armstrong, Commander of Apollo 11, echoed these concerns. “I am persuaded that a return to the moon would be the most productive path to expanding the human presence in the Solar System," he said.   His top three priorities for the human space program are maintaining American leadership; guaranteeing American access to space; and continuing to explore the Solar System.

Members on both sides of the aisle continued to express numerous concerns over the President’s proposed plan to cancel the Constellation system in favor of having NASA buy seats for its astronauts on launch systems that have not yet been designed, tested, or built.  Such vehicles would theoretically be used to ferry astronauts to and from the International Space Station.  NASA has spent the last five years designing the Constellation system, which is to be the Space Shuttle’s replacement.  The Constellation system already represents over a $10 billion taxpayer investment and has demonstrated success.
Since releasing the NASA budget proposal, President Obama has since announced the addition of an ISS crew rescue development program.  However, this proposal has no corresponding increase in the NASA budget proposal.  Estimated to cost between $5-7 billion, many members today agreed with Ranking Member Hall that such continued changes call into question the stability, credibility and sustainability of the President’s plan.

Thomas Young, former CEO of Lockheed Martin Corp., also had strong concerns with the President's proposal. “A fundamental flaw in the proposed human spaceflight program is a commercial crew initiative which abandons the proven methodology I have described.  NASA's role is reduced to defining safety requirements and general oversight,” he said, “Commercial crew is a risk too high, not a responsible course and should not be approved.”

Hall agreed, saying “In the absence of a defensible, credible plan, I and many of our members continue to support the Constellation program as currently authorized and appropriated by successive Congresses.”


Democratic Caucus New Media Working Group will give lawmakers constituent outreach tools (Reps. Honda and Pingree)

Democrats have been at the forefront of using new media in politics for more than a decade and we intend to stay on the cutting edge. That's why we've created the Democratic Caucus New Media Working Group to give all of our colleagues the tools they need to reach out to their constituents through the many avenues that new media offers. President Obama has set a great example for how useful the Internet can be in energizing supporters, informing the public and creating an open dialogue with the American people. Now, the American public expects (and deserves!) a government that uses these tools to give them opportunities to participate in all levels of the political process.

The Working Group continues the proud Democratic tradition of using the Internet to include the voices of working and middle class Americans. In ensuring that Democrats are being innovative with their websites and with tools like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, we hope to reach out to Americans who might not otherwise be heard. In particular, there are three critical reasons why we are launching the Working Group now.


Congress can help America stay competitive with COMPETES Act reauthorization (Rep. Michael Honda)

This week, Congress votes on the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act, H.R. 5116.  It’s worth taking a moment to explain to the American people what the hard work and thoughtful consideration of Chairman Bart Gordon and members of the Science and Technology Committee, on which I am proud to have once served, have produced.  The American people are looking to Congress to ensure our economy remains competitive. This bill helps with that. 

But let’s back up a bit first.  The America COMPETES Act of 2007 significantly bolstered American innovation, the most fundamental hope for sustainable economic growth and competitiveness in the United States and a critical driver of the economy of my Silicon Valley district. It helped drive new research and its commercialization, and encouraged the creation of a more dynamic business environment, and made improvements to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education that are important for our nation’s long term economic health.


Seeing new media in a different lens (Rep. Mike Honda)

This week, I had the opportunity to speak on a keynote panel at 2010 Politics Online Conference regarding the use of New Media in Government. This week, I was also honored to receive my 5th Mouse Award from the Congressional Management Foundation (CMF) recognizing the best websites in Congress. As the only Member in Congress to receive a website award from CMF each year, I owe my success to the values of innovation and hard work, exemplified well by my 15th District, which propel me to be at the forefront of the New Media wave.

Events like these usually elicit questions about why I put so much emphasis on constituent communications through new technology. As a former educator, I have always believed that involving stakeholders in decision-making yields the best results. This method works in the classroom, and is essential when governing. The American people are our nation’s greatest resource and the residents of CA-15 are my guide.


Net neutrality needs your help today (Sen. John Kerry)

It would be at best sophomoric and at worst patronizing to stop by here and "tell you" you how important the Internet is to our economy and political culture now.

But when you're talking about almost 200 billion emails sent each day and more than $3 trillion in e-commerce a year ago, it's more than clear we've just scratched the surface of what the Internet can do, both as a platform for commerce and discourse.

And so it's far from surprising that the powerful interests have lined up on different sides of a huge fight going on in Washington; and it will probably be very familiar to you, after years of battling over Net Neutrality.


Celebrating the birth of copyright (Sen. Patrick Leahy)

It was 300 years ago this week that the British Parliament enacted the Statute of Anne, the original predecessor of modern day copyright law. Today these copyright laws are a cornerstone of the American economy. This milestone is a fitting time to reflect on the vitality of our copyright laws and to renew our commitment to strong intellectual property enforcement that ensures copyrighted works have the protections that allow them to contribute so much to our economy and culture.     

The Statute of Anne, named for Queen Anne, laid the groundwork for our laws that safeguard and reward the creativity of today’s artists and entrepreneurs. The Founders saw copyright protection as a sufficiently important duty of government to enshrine it in the Constitution, to promote “the progress of science and the useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors . . . the exclusive right to their . . . writings.”


Aspects of FCC's plan for broadband could have serious consequences for our recovering economy

With our nation’s unemployment rate stuck stubbornly near the double-digit mark, policymakers nationwide continue to look for ways to spur economic growth in the private sector – preferably without deepening the federal deficit.  One area where federal and state officials agree is that of expanding broadband Internet to underserved and unserved areas, which was a large part of the National Broadband Plan presented by the Federal Communications Commission to Congress on March 16th.  It is widely understood that boosting the nation’s broadband infrastructure would bring untold economic and social benefits.

The Plan acts as a blueprint for the general direction the federal government will take in aiding future broadband expansion efforts from both the private and public sectors.

The economic and social importance of the Internet and expanding broadband over the last decade reaches into the trillions of dollars. Therefore the FCC must tread carefully or risk curtailing an industry that has transformed not only American society, but the entire global marketplace.


Protect the U.S. from cyber attacks (Rep. Yvette D. Clarke)

Securing our critical electronic infrastructure from cyber attack has become one of the most significant national security challenges for the United States in the 21st century.  Surprisingly, the technological fixes to this challenge may be easier to solve than the underlying policy questions.  One of the most fundamental and vexing problems for policymakers is defining the role of the Federal government in defending against nation state-level cyber attacks against critical infrastructure.

The United States relies primarily on voluntary efforts by owners and operators to secure critical infrastructure against cyber attack.  A majority of America’s critical infrastructure and key resources – electric grid, water facilities, manufacturing plants, etc. – is not owned, controlled, or regulated by the U.S. government.  Some owners and operators of regulated industries must comply with Federal legal requirements for securing their own information technology systems, but this is the exception and not the rule.



LCLAA advocates for broadband in every home and business

The Labor Council for Latin American Advancement (LCLAA) has just joined with 199 other companies and organizations as a member of the Broadband for America (BfA) coalition.  Like most organizations we are very careful with our brand, and don’t join organizations without doing a great deal of homework.  When the opportunity to join BfA was presented to us, we quickly realized that it fit perfectly with many of the aims and goals of LCLAA.
The Labor Council for Latin American Advancement is a national advocacy organization representing the interests of over 1.7 million Latino and Latina trade unionists throughout the U.S. and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.   Why would a trade union organization join hands with many of the Internet service providers and content distributors in the private sector?  For the same reason that the Cuban American National Council, Dominican American National Roundtable and others joined, to advocate for providing broadband Internet access to every home and business in America.  
LCLAA stands arm-in-arm with the Latino Health Institute of Beth Israel Medical Center, League of United Latin American Citizens, and the dozens of other Latino-focused organizations which have joined Broadband for America.


Maintaining America's lead role in space (Rep. Bill Posey)

It’s my hope that both Congress and the Administration will continue to fly the Space Shuttle until either Constellation, America’s next generation space craft, is ready to launch or a domestic based company is certified to take humans to the space station. It’s critical to our national security, our economy and our technological edge that we maintain our leadership in space and our ability to send humans to the space station.
Several weeks ago the Administration put forth a NASA budget proposal which is seriously lacking in vision and mission. It appears to have been developed “on the fly” with little coordination between public and private stakeholders. And what NASA fails to fully understand, or at least obviously does not take into account, is the much broader military, industrial, and economic implications of their proposals.  It would be irresponsible for Congress to embrace this “plan” without further scrutiny.