Tension Dominates Budget Talks Between NASA And Lawmakers
Tension filled the room on Wednesday when NASA’s Charles Bolden sat down with the House Committe on Science, Space and Technology to address the agency’s request for $17.7 billion for fiscal year 2014.
Among the concerns discussed was NASA’s investment in commercial enterprises for transporting both astronauts and payloads to and from the International Space Station (ISS), as seen with SpaceX and Orbital Science.
Senator Richard Shelby, R-Ala., was particularly vocal on this point, according to Voice of America, expressing his concern that the budget focuses “too heavily on maintaining the fiction of privately funded commercial launch vehicles, which diverts,” he said, “critical resources from NASA’s goal of developing human spaceflight capabilities with the [Space Launch System].”
The Space Launch System (SLS) is a heavy-lift rocket currently underway that, upon completion, will provide, according to NASA, a “safe, affordable and sustainable means of reaching beyond our current limits and open new doors of discovery from the unique vantage point of space.”
Bolden defended the agency’s actions, however, saying the SLS remains one of its top three priorities, along with the Commercial Crew Program and the James Webb Space Telescope, which is set to replace the Hubble Telescope.
Furthermore, Bolden explained that NASA’s reliance on commercial firms as well as Russia for transport to and from the ISS is the result of a denial of adequate funding through the years.
In the meantime, Bolden said, the agency is currently paying the Russian government $63 million every time it launches an astronaut into Space.
“It is not my desire to come back to this committee and to the Congress and the president and ask for more money to pay the Russians,” Bolden said, according to Asbury Press Park.
Subcommittee Chairman Steven Palazzo, R-Miss., expressed concern over the recent announcement of NASA’s plans to capture a near-earth asteroid, saying that he is worried the agency “has neglected congressional funding priorities and been distracted by new and questionable missions that detract from our ultimately space exploration goals,” according to the Houston Chronicle.
The sentiment was echoed by Committee Chairman Lamar Smith, R-Texas, who said he feared the funds in the asteroid project would “detract from NASA’s human spaceflight projects” as well as the SLS, ISS and Orion Crew Vehicle.
Bolden denied this, saying that if the amount of funding requested for each project is met, he did not foresee any missed deadlines.