NASA's course raises concerns
January 29, 2010
By Bart Jansen
Democrat Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON — Lawmakers from states and districts where NASA is an important presence voiced concern Thursday about the changes that President Barack Obama's proposed budget is expected to recommend in the agency's course.
Administration officials say the proposed fiscal 2011 budget will call for a $6 billion increase in NASA's budget over five years at the same time Obama wants to freeze the overall domestic budget for three years.
Under Obama's plan for NASA, the agency would shift focus from sending astronauts back to the moon to expanding research at the International Space Station and encouraging commercial crew launches, administration officials said Wednesday. Those priorities would come at the expense of the Constellation program for human spaceflight, which a presidential commission warned in October has been underfunded for decades.
Lawmakers said they will review Obama's recommendations but make their own spending decisions. Congress included language in the most recent spending bill for NASA that bars the administration from changing the agency's course without congressional review.
NASA and the Constellation program enjoy broad congressional backing through the facilities and contractors they support nationwide. But a shift to commercial rockets using crews from NASA's current program would create new winners and losers for federal funding.
Kennedy Space Center faces the loss of 7,000 jobs with the retirement of the space shuttle. NASA's next rocket for humans, an Ares with an Orion capsule, wasn't expected to launch until at least 2017 or 2018.
The goal of extending the life of the space station from 2015 to 2020 and encouraging the use of commercially crewed rockets is to avoid completely ending American launches to the space station before it plummets into the Pacific Ocean, according to a NASA official. Commercial launches could create 1,700 jobs in Florida, and investing in a faster pace of commercial launches at Kennedy Space Center could create hundreds more.
"We're going to have to get the president to do more for NASA," Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., said. "America's global leadership in science and technology is at stake if we don't maintain a more robust space exploration program."
Rep. Suzanne Kosmas, D-New Smyrna Beach, supports extending the life of the space station and increasing commercial flights. But she said the country needs a human exploration program that doesn't rely entirely on commercial crews.
"The president's proposal would leave NASA with essentially no program and no timeline for exploration beyond earth's orbit," Kosmas said, adding that the president's leadership "seems to be falling short."