Panel’s report threatens NASA’s mission

A report suggesting that NASA’s space travel goals are too ambitious for its budget is imperiling efforts by Florida and Texas lawmakers to win more money for the agency’s budget.

The Human Space Flight Committee, which was created by President Barack Obama, said this week that NASA’s flight program is on an “unsustainable trajectory” due to its “pursuing goals that do not match allocated resources.”

ADVERTISEMENT
Rep. Alan Mollohan (D-W.Va.), who sponsored the House appropriations bill calling for fewer 2010 NASA funds than the Obama administration requested, said the report confirms his concerns that “the emperor has no clothes.”

Mollohan echoed the committee in criticizing the approach to spaceflight for having a “disconnect between its means and ends,” suggesting that NASA must either find more funding or rein in its ambitions.

The panel, in the executive summary of a full report to come later, noted that NASA’s next-generation space travel vehicles won’t be ready until 2017, two years later than scheduled, and that the space agency should turn to private companies for missions that don’t venture beyond Earth’s low orbit.

If NASA wants to achieve its goals of sending humans to the moon and Mars, it needs $3 billion more annually, the panel said.
That would be a significant boost to NASA’s budget, expected to be less than $19 billion next year.

The report by the committee, led by former Lockheed Martin executive Norman Augustine, led to renewed calls to overhaul NASA’s approach.

Mollohan’s Commerce, Justice and Science 2010 spending bill set NASA’s budget at $18.2 billion — $650.6 million less than what NASA had requested.

Mollohan had said he would consider the higher funding level after the report’s release. He has called on NASA to more clearly spell out its plans for manned space missions.

The Senate, in its spending bill for NASA, set the agency’s funding at the higher, requested level of $18.7 billion. The House and Senate have yet to reconcile their bills’ differences in conference.

Mollohan said he looks forward to working with the Obama administration and his colleagues in Congress “as we determine the best way to align resources with NASA’s human spaceflight mission.”

A bipartisan group of about a dozen lawmakers from Texas and Florida, home to major spaceflight bases, have pressed for more NASA funding, arguing that it would have national security and economic benefits. They used the report’s findings to call on the administration to provide even more funding for the agency.

“It’s time to step up to the plate and give them what they need — $2 billion or $3 billion [a year],” said Rep. Pete Olson (R-Texas), whose district includes the Johnson Space Center.

Augustine, whose former company is a leading aerospace contractor, will testify before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation subcommittee with jurisdiction over NASA next week, according to the panel’s chairman, Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.).

Nelson, whose state is home to the Kennedy Space Center, said that whether the space program will get funding to meet its goals will depend on the White House.

“There’s only one person who can lead the space program, and that’s the president,” Nelson said.

More in Cybersecurity

Pro-ISIS hackers threaten first family

Read more »