Culberson: Only One Member of Congress Supports Obama's New Plan for NASA

Culberson: Only One Member of Congress Supports Obama's New Plan for NASA

At a hearing before the House Appropriations Commerce-Justice-Science subcommittee this afternoon, Rep. John Culberson (R-TX) said that he knows of only one Member of Congress who supports President Obama’s new plan for NASA. He did not identify who that is, but Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) has publicly praised the President’s plan to rely on commercial space companies for human trips to low Earth orbit.

As has been true in other congressional hearings on NASA’s budget request, the vast majority of questions to NASA Administrator Bolden were about the decision to cancel the Constellation program. Brief mention was made of the $6 billion increase to the NASA budget over 5 years that is projected in the budget request, and there were a couple of questions about space science and aeronautics research, but Constellation and the future of the human space flight program dominated the hearing.

Several members asked about the costs associated with the Ares I and Ares 5 programs, some taking issue with what the Augustine Committee and NASA are now saying. Administrator Bolden said the Ares 1 would cost $4-4.5 billion per year to operate. Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-AL) held up a piece of paper that from his description appeared to be a response from NASA last year about how much an Ares 1 launch would cost. He said the answer was $1.3 billion for three flights per year. By contrast, Gen. Bolden said that when he asked how much it would cost for a single Ares 1 launch, he was told $1.6 billion, and that the annual operating costs would be $4-4.5 billion. He promised the Congressman an answer for the record explaining the discrepancies.

Extensive discussion about when a heavy lift launch vehicle (HLLV) would be available permeated the hearing. Gen. Bolden said that he hoped one could be available in 10 years or so.

In answer to questions from subcommittee chairman Rep. Alan Mollohan (D-WV), Gen. Bolden repeated his answer at other congressional hearings that the destination for human space flight is the Moon and Mars, but he could not put a date on when there would be human trips to Mars. He insisted that the United States is the leader in human space flight and will remain the leader through the International Space Station program. He also assured Chairman Mollohan that he was complying with language in the FY2010 Consolidated Appropropriations Act not to cancel any aspect of the Constellation program until Congress takes further action in a subsequent appropriations bill.

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