House SS&T Committee to Hold Hearing on Orion and SLS

House SS&T Committee to Hold Hearing on Orion and SLS

The House Science, Space and Technology (SS&T) Committee’s Space Subcommittee has scheduled a hearing next week on the status of NASA’s Orion and Space Launch System (SLS) programs.

The hearing will be on December 10, 2014 at 10:00 am in 2318 Rayburn House Office Building.  Witnesses are:

  • Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations
  • Cristina Chaplain, Director, Acquisition and Sourcing Management, Government Accountability Office (GAO)
  • David Radzanowski, NASA Chief Financial Officer (or designee), invited

The full title of the hearing is “An Update on the Space Launch System and Orion:  Monitoring the Development of the Nation’s Deep Space Exploration Capabilities.”

SLS and Orion are congressional favorites and there has been significant tension between Congress and the White House — and therefore NASA — on whether the Obama Administration is giving them the priority Congress intended when it passed the 2010 NASA Authorization Act.   The Obama Administration wants to focus on the commercial crew program to facilitate the development of new crew space transportation capabilities by the private sector to take astronauts to and from the International Space Station.

With all the intense NASA publicity associated with the Orion Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1) launch, it is difficult to imagine that NASA is anything but supportive of Orion, but ultimately the question is about how NASA’s money is allocated.  In a constrained budget environment, does the money go to SLS/Orion or commercial crew?  Congress thinks the Obama Administration is favoring commercial crew even though the Administration knows SLS/Orion is their priority.

The versions of the FY2015 Commerce-Justice-Science appropriations bill that passed the House in May and was approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee in June leave no doubt that SLS/Orion has priority over commercial crew in Congress.  Whether the Obama Administration’s human spaceflight priorities will be the focus of this hearing or if it is just an update on where SLS and Orion stand is not clear from the committee’s announcement.   Having the NASA CFO at a programmatic hearing is a little unusual, however, and the announcement indicates that he has not yet agreed to participate (or that NASA or the White House has not yet agreed to allow him to participate).

Launch of the EFT-1 mission, scheduled for today, was scrubbed due to weather and technical issues and has been rescheduled for tomorrow.  Even if there is another delay, presumably it will be completed prior to the hearing.

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