NASA a "Big Challenge" Holdren Tells AAAS

NASA a "Big Challenge" Holdren Tells AAAS

During today’s plenary lecture at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) annual conference in Washington, D.C., Dr. John P. Holdren, Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and Science Adviser to the President, said that “NASA has been a big challenge.”

Holdren’s speech was a status report on the Obama Administration’s progress on science, technology, and innovation policy. Though the talk focused on federal initiatives in other fields, such as energy and education policy, Holdren spoke for a few minutes about the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

Referencing the Bush Administration’s Moon-and-Mars focused Vision for Space Exploration (VSE), Holdren said the Obama Administration had inherited a program in disarray in an agency that was largely dispirited after “years of mismatch of resources and vision.” Because the VSE was not properly funded, NASA’s scientific activities were “gutted [to] feed [the] Constellation [Program],” referring to the program developed to implement the VSE. He described the Obama Administration’s alternative plan for NASA, unveiled and hotly debated since February of last year, which cancelled the Constellation program, extended the International Space Station, and opted to rely on the commercial sector for human space transportation to low Earth orbit. This, he said, was a “comprehensive plan to balance NASA’s programs.”

Holdren later mentioned the 2010 NASA Authorization Act, signed last year, which he described as “a compromise.” While it “reflected Congressional preference for using existing technologies [and] contracts” for building a heavy lift launch vehicle, he said he was pleased because it had “a lot of what we wanted in it.”

Carrying out the mandates of the Authorization Act, of course, requires funding. Holdren said he hoped Congress would approve a FY2012 budget, speaking to the fact that because Congress so far has failed to approve a budget for FY2011, most agencies have been operating under a continuing resolution since October when FY2011 began. He said the President’s FY2012 budget request, released last Monday, “funds every element of the Authorization,” but he admitted that its outcome is still very much uncertain.

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