Mikulski: U.S. cannot afford new NASA 'every four years'

A top Senate Democrat appropriator on Thursday declined to take much of a stance toward the White House's re-tooled NASA budget, though she did stress the United States could not afford to reinvent the agency every four years.

As the White House seeks to cancel most of NASA's manned-space flight program, provoking congressional outrage, Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) said during an appropriations hearing more investigation and research was needed before she could decide whether that was the correct course of action.

"I need to know more details. I want to know if this is the program that Congress and the American people are going to support from one administration to the next," said Mikulski, the chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice and Science.

"We cannot reinvent NASA every four years. Every new president can't have a new NASA agenda," the senator stressed, noting she would convene as many hearing as necessary to learn more about the president's changes.

Outrage at the White House's 2011 NASA budget has long been pointed, as lawmakers have questioned the president's rationale for ending Constellation -- the program created by former President George W. Bush to send astronauts to the Moon and Mars.

While both the White House and NASA claim technology does not yet exist to complete those missions in the time frame Bush outlined, lawmakers from both parties have slapped the administration for stripping the agency of a long-term goal. President Barack Obama has since relaxed some of those proposed cuts, but even White House's revised budget proposal has invoked some lawmakers' ire.

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) echoed those concerns during Thursday's appropriations hearing, stressing the administration's stance is "ironic considering [their] recent statements that the ultimate objective of our space program is Mars."