NASA Clarifies Orion Lifeboat Money Will Not Come From Commercial Crew

NASA Clarifies Orion Lifeboat Money Will Not Come From Commercial Crew

NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden misspoke at yesterday’s House hearing — or the situation changed afterwards — when he said that the funds to pay for a downscaled version of the Orion spacecraft (“Orion-lite”) to serve as a space station lifeboat would come from funding allocated for commercial crew. NASA now says that it will not come from commercial crew, but other human spaceflight activities. The clarification first appeared in today’s New York Times and was confirmed to by NASA.

Early in the House Science and Technology Committee hearing (minute 24:50 of the webcast), Bolden responded to a question from committee chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN) about where the money will come from to build Orion-lite and pay for the $40 million President Obama promised to help the Florida space workforce. He assured Rep. Gordon that the funds would not come from science or aeronautics, adding that it would be taken from “commercial crew and … technology development.” He repeated it thereafter.

In today’s New York Times, however, an unnamed NASA spokeswoman is cited as saying that “none of the financing for the Orion lifeboat would come from the $6 billion allocated to the commercial crew program, and that the offsetting funds would come from elsewhere in the human spaceflight program.” A NASA spokesman confirmed to that the New York Times account is accurate.

NASA apparently told the committee prior to the hearing that the pricetag for Orion-lite is $5-7 billion over 5 years, but Bolden said at the hearing that NASA had refined the estimate down to $4.5 billion. How credible either estimate is remains to be seen. The only other human spaceflight funds to tap are in the Space Operations Mission Directorate (SOMD) and the Exploration Systems Mission Directorate (ESMD). The two main programs in SOMD are the space shuttle, which is coming to an end, and the International Space Station (ISS). ESMD’s other programs are technology demonstration, heavy lift and propulsion R&D, human research (funds for experiments aboard the ISS), and robotic precursors.

Bolden told the committee that a revised NASA FY2011 budget request will be submitted to Congress “in the near future.”

Editor’s Note: The original version of this story said that Mr. Bolden misspoke, but since it is possible that what he said was accurate at the time but changed afterwards, the opening sentence has been modified accordingly. Stay tuned.

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