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NASA's Bolden Before the House Science Committee

Feb 26, 2010

Washington, Feb 26, 2010 - NASA Administrator Charles Bolden received more flack at a hearing of the House Science and Technology Committee. Only one Congressman, Dana Rohrabacher, had good things to say about the Obama space plan.

Committee Chairman Bart Gordon was stark in his assessment. "So far, this plan has not found a lot of support here on the Hill. That could change, of course, but at present I cannot be confident that the votes are there to enact this [NASA] proposal as is -- and you shouldn't be either."

Numerous other members of the committee criticized the Obama space plan, which would commercialize space travel between Earth and low Earth orbit and cancel the Constellation space exploration program in favor of a yet to be fully defined technology development program.

No one was more aggressive about this than freshman Florida Democrat Alan Grayson. Grayson repeatedly questioned Charles Bolden in a style that some might call "prosecutorial" and but other hand called just plane rude. Actually, by his standards, Congressman Grayson was actually pretty gentle with Administrator Bolden. Grayson has, in the past, accused Republicans of wanting sick people to "die quickly." Grayson was making the point that the technology research and development program was too vague in the matter of destinations, timetables, and deadlines. Bolden was being evasive in his answer, at least the video suggests.

The continuing hostility from the Congress that is greeting the Obama space policy suggests a legislative train wreck is developing. If the Obama administration does not want to pursue space exploration, at least in a timeframe that is reasonable, and if Congress does not want space exploration cancelled and is skeptical about commercializing space travel, then what is going to be the result?

One possible solution would be for Obama administration officials, including the president himself, to sit down with both House and Senate leaders, authorizers and appropriators, with purview over space and to hash out a compromise.

A possible compromise would have the following elements:

First, the space commercialization initiative would be preserved, but with safeguards to make sure that the commercial space sector will really step up and that NASA will award contracts based upon merit. Also safety regulations will be hashed out that the commercial space companies can actually adhere to.

Second, there has to be some kind of space exploration program with destinations, timetables, and deadlines. The program could be a revival of Constellation, it could be some option put forward by the Augustine committee, or it could be something else. It should be designed to evolve hardware as technology is developed by the technology research and development program. It could have greater participation by the private sector. While international partners are certainly to be welcomed, it should be clear that the program is American led.

The question is, will the two sides, the White House and Congress, come together along lines like that? Or will people remain frozen in their positions to the determent of America's space effort?

Sources: NASA chief takes more flak from Congress, Mark K. Matthews, Orlando Sentinel, February 25th, 2010

Alan Grayson: Republicans Want Sick People to 'Die Quickly', Mark R. Whittington, Associated Content, September 30th, 2009
Original article: Associated Content