Lawmakers Question Obama's NASA Plans

Science panel raises concerns about the future of manned space flight at NASA as last manned flights are scheduled for the end of the year.

Key lawmakers on the House Committee on Science and Technology's Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics March 24 questioned President Obama's decision to cancel NASA's Constellation Program.
Constellation is the human space flight development program established to deliver Americans to the ISS (International Space Station) and later to the Moon and other destinations in the solar system following the retirement of the space shuttle program at the end of the year.
Members of the panel were particularly concerned by questions left unanswered by NASA's FY 2011 budget request. While NASA has provided its overall rationale for moving in another direction, the proposed change in the agency's exploration program has not been accompanied by many specifics. Members and witnesses discussed issues of safety, workforce impacts, and the impact of the proposed changes on the future of the Nation's human space flight program.
"In cancelling this program, we would write off $14 billion in taxpayer dollars that have been spent, with no apparent plan to make any significant use of the results of that investment," Subcommittee Chairwoman Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) said in a statement. "We would make this country dependent on yet-to-be developed 'commercial crew' services of unknown cost and safety, with no government-backup system available; we would very likely be forced to rely on other nations to access low Earth orbit and the ISS for the foreseeable future."
Members and witnesses also discussed issues associated with the proposal to rely solely on the yet to be developed commercial crew services. Members sought answers on the cost of such an approach, the risks that it would entail and what recourse the government will have if the providers are unable to meet cost commitments or safety concerns.
"I want to see a plan that includes human exploration beyond low Earth orbit by the end of this decade. Nothing in this budget gives any indication that this would occur, and I find that unacceptable. We have the technology. Let's make it happen," Giffords said.