House members demand study of White House's NASA budget proposal

Fifteen House lawmakers are now calling on the Obama administration to appoint a team of NASA experts to study the president's latest space budget request.

In a letter Thursday to NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, the collection of 15 Democrats and Republicans recommended the panel assess how the White House 2011 space spending proposal would impact NASA vehicle development, U.S. access to the International Space Station and the country's future leadership in manned space flight.

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The lawmakers also requested NASA deliver its findings in a report to the entire Congress within 30 days.

Ultimately, the group's request arrives in direct response to President Barack Obama's plan to cut NASA's Constellation program -- the manned mission to the Moon developed by former President George W. Bush in 2005.

While Obama did propose an increase in NASA's budget next year, its Constellation cut has nonetheless infuriated congressional Republicans, in particular, who claim the agency will soon be without direction.

"Above all, NASA must have a clear exploration mission, timeline, goals and a destination, and its funding must be carefully aligned with the exploration plan," the lawmakers wrote on Wednesday.

"Under this administration's proposal, each of these critical elements is missing," they continued. "NASA will no longer have a clear vision on its direction and ultimately the U.S. will no longer be a spacefaring nation."

However, the White House is unlikely to comply with lawmakers' latest request, in part because it believes the president's 2011 NASA budget request actually offers the agency more direction than it previously had.

"If you gave me an infinite pot of money, I could not get a human to Mars in the next ten years, because there are some things we just don't know," NASA chief Bolden told lawmakers earlier this month, stressing the White House's new emphasis on research could soon change that.

Still, the president has fielded significant criticism for its approach, especially from lawmakers who represent states in which NASA operates key bases.

In response, the Obama administration announced last week it will host a NASA space flight summit in Florida this April, at one of NASA's main space hubs. That forum will focus on "laying the foundation to support journeys to the Moon, asteroids, and eventually to Mars," according to the White House