Congressional Reaction to Augustine Committee Report Suggests Long Road Ahead

Congressional Reaction to Augustine Committee Report Suggests Long Road Ahead

Reactions by Members of Congress to the Augustine committee report illuminate the challenging road that still lies ahead for decisions on the future of the human space flight program.

Senator Shelby
(R-AL), ranking member of the appropriations subcommittee that funds NASA, strongly criticized the Augustine committee’s optimism about relying on commercial companies to launch astronauts into low Earth orbit instead of NASA’s Constellation program on the Senate floor yesterday, before the final report was released. He also issued a press statement today. His floor statement focused on whether the committee adequately assessed the safety implications of alternatives to Constellation, saying the committee’s findings were “worthless” without an “honest and thorough examination.”

“When making comparisons on the safety and performance of the various options, fundamental design differences cannot be lumped together and considered to be equal. Without an honest and thorough examination of the safety and reliability aspects of the various designs and options, the findings of this report are worthless. I would like to know why this blue ribbon panel did not examine these safety aspects.”

“Pretty slides and unproven promises will not show us you have the right stuff to be entrusted with the lives of our astronauts. If these companies can be successful-and there is no reason to doubt that eventually, someday, somehow they will be-then NASA, the Congress, and the public might be willing to hand over launches to low Earth orbit. That day is not today and it will not be for years to come.”

Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), chair of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, which authorizes NASA activities, did not appear overly enthusiastic about space activities in general.

Today, as the Augustine Commission delivers the final report to the President, ongoing budget challenges mean that we have to establish our priorities and make difficult choices, said Chairman Rockefeller. Our space program is at a critical juncture, this is no longer the era of Apollo and the Cold War where the payoffs for advancing the space and Moon agenda are unquestionable. The President, I am sure, will continue to struggle with these same questions as he reviews the commission’s findings and options. As we move forward, I am committed to working with the administration on developing an achievable vision for NASA.

By contrast, Senate Commerce Ranking Member Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) emphasized the importance of the space program to the country:

The release of this report today marks the beginning of what must be a crucial discussion about America’s future role in space. Our current programs are simply unsustainable under the NASA budget and could potentially make plans to use the station until 2020 impossible. Failure to act threatens America’s foundation in space. Congress and the President must work together to address these mounting challenges if our nation is to continue its role as a world leader in space.

Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL), who chairs that committee’s subcommittee on Science and Space, vowed to work with the President to fund human space flight. Saying that the President “assured me that NASA will get enough money to do what it does best: go explore the heavens, he added Whatever the president chooses, I will continue to fight to get NASA the funding it needs for the next generation of human spaceflight.

Senator John Cornyn (R-TX), who joined other members of the Texas congressional delegation in sending a letter to President Obama on October 5 urging him to allocate $3 billion of the stimulus funds to NASA, said today that:

“It would be extremely damaging if the Obama Administration, based on their own committee’s findings, continues to delay taking the necessary action of setting a course for NASA and devoting the necessary resources and leadership to ensure the agency is able to achieve its goals. I call on President Obama to use today’s report release from his committee as a catalyst for submitting to Congress an appropriate mission and budget for NASA and a robust human space flight program.”

Representatives Bart Gordon (D-TN) and Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ), chairs of the House Science and Technology Committee and its Science and Space subcommittee issued a joint press release. Chairman Gordon was generally positive, but indicated that much work remains to be done.

“We Americans fundamentally have to decide whether we want to have a human space exploration program or not-if we do, the Augustine panel makes clear that we will need to invest additional resources….Thus, the president has a clear and important decision to make, and I want to work with him to craft a productive path forward for the nation.”

Representative Giffords again expressed strong support for continuing the existing Constellation program, as she did during the committee’s hearing in September:

“While I look forward to reading the Augustine panel’s final report, Congress has already made its decisions on the issues considered by the panel. Now that both internal and external independent reviews have confirmed that the Constellation program is being well executed, we know what needs to be done. Let’s get on with it and cease contemplating our collective navels.”

Representative Pete Olson (R-TX), ranking member of the subcommittee, expressed hope that the President would use the report to develop a “clear and sustainable path” for human space flight.

“It is my deep hope that the Administration responds to their panel’s work with a clear and sustainable path for the future of our human spaceflight program. We cannot at this juncture assume America’s continued leadership in space if we fail to make the commitments necessary to put us on the path to escaping low earth orbit and having a national program that yields scientific benefits, technology innovations, and a new generation of scientists and engineers. I urge President Obama to do the right thing and take this opportunity to enable America to maintain its global leadership in human spaceflight.”

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