Holdren: U.S. is Number One in Space and Intends to Stay That Way

Holdren: U.S. is Number One in Space and Intends to Stay That Way

Presidential Science Advisor John Holdren told the House Science, Space and Technology Committee yesterday that despite what some people say, the United States is the world leader in space activities. 

The space program was only one of many topics debated at the hearing, which focused on the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and President Obama’s science policies and priorities.  Holdren also serves as Director of OSTP.

“We continue … to lead the world in space, although sometimes the contrary is asserted,” he told Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D- CA).   “Our planetary exploration programs have absolutely no peer.  …. some people say China is overtaking [us].  China just put its first woman in space a few days ago.  We put our first woman in space, Sally Ride, in 1983.  One can go through the list.  China is talking about maybe being able to land someone on the moon in 2020.  We did it in 1969.”

Later, Rep. Randy Hultgren (R-IL) cited a recent article in Space News as saying that in the past four years the country has gone from first to third place in space exploration and “I think that’s a shame.” 

The June 18, 2012 issue of Space News published a lengthy op-ed piece by Frank van Rensselaer that harshly criticizes the Obama Administration and NASA’s leaders for “having taken the U.S. from world leadership in space to third-place status in less than four years.”  Van Rensselaer is a former NASA and aerospace industry executive who worked at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy during the Reagan Administration according to a brief biography available on the Internet.

Holdren strongly disagreed. “By any respectable set of metrics I know of, the United States is still number one in space and intends to stay that way.”

On more specific NASA issues, Holdren told committee chairman Ralph Hall (R-TX) that he and President Obama are confident NASA can specify and oversee safety requirements for commercial crew systems even though NASA currently is using Space Act Agreements instead of Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR)-based contracting.  Rep. Steve Palazzo (R-MS), chair of the space and aeronautics subcommittee, asked what would happen if the companies did not perform or went out of business — what would NASA own for the money it is expending.   Holdren replied that NASA’s funding is an investment in the private sector that will yield more efficient and less expensive space missions and the idea is not for NASA to “own” anything.

Hall and Palazzo both wanted to know when the White House would announce its plans for obtaining a congressional waiver from the Iran-North Korea-Syria Nonproliferation Act (INKSNA) so NASA can continue to pay Russia for hardware and services for the International Space Station (ISS).  The current waiver lasts only through 2016. Holdren punted, saying only that the Administration is assessing the options even though “it’s clear that it’s going to be needed [and] sooner is better than later.”  He declined to provide a timeline on when the administration would send a request to Congress. 

Holdren defended NASA’s planetary science budget, which was cut 20% in the President’s FY2013 budget request.  Repeating what others in the administration have been saying, Holdren told Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD) the Mars program is “robust” despite the budget constraints and “we have not, by any means, given up our leadership in planetary exploration.”  Edwards responded by emphasizing the need for predictable budgets not only for planetary science but science in general.  She said it is “unacceptable” to do research by “jumping in and out,” and just ends up costing more in the long run.  Holdren agreed.  

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