“I have never seen [Congress] as unified as we are now.” Those were the words of Senator Bill Nelson describing the reaction to President Obama’s proposal to effectively cede our nation’s dominance in space by axing critical pieces of our manned spaceflight program.
Bipartisanship in this Congress? In this bitter, partisan climate on the eve of an election? It must take a really bad idea to produce that sort of unanimity. Actually, that is probably understating things… so let me put it this way… President Obama’s plan to cut NASA’s Constellation project, and in so doing, end our ability to conduct manned spaceflight missions on our own.. is not just a really bad idea, it’s an awful one.
As reported by Spaceflight:
White House plans to axe NASA‘s return-to-the-Moon Constellation programme and ground the Space Shuttle have sparked unified opposition from Congress, which looks determined to preserve a full spectrum of US manned spaceflight activities.
A draft Congressional bill leaked to Flight International sets out the politicians’ alternate plan. It involves possibly extending Shuttle life to 2015, running competitive commercial crew and cargo programmes and continuing development of Constellation’s vehicles including a heavylift rocket designed to get astronauts to the Moon in the 2020s and then Mars.
In a heated hearing on Capitol Hill, President Obama’s NASA administrator Charles Bolden, a former astronaut and Shuttle commander, had to defend his deputy Lori Beth Garver and the president’s plan to shift NASA’s focus from missions to capabilities under the fiscal year 2011 budget request.
In the 24 February hearing of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation committee’s science and space subcommittee one senator criticised Garver as the alleged author of the plan and budget, which the subcommittee’s members described as ending all US human spaceflight efforts with its retirement of the Shuttle fleet this year and cancellation of the Constellation.
Referring to the space programme as bipartisan, subcommittee chairman senator Bill Nelson of Florida says of the opposition to the Obama plan: “I have never seen [Congress] as unified as we are now.”
Much of the Congressional opposition to Obama’s plan stems from estimates pegging direct job losses from cutting Constellation, Shuttle and other programmes at 30,000, including 7,000 at the Kennedy Space Center.
Bolden told the hearing that the Obama exploration goal was Mars, but during the early February budget roll-out he said that the plan’s destinations would be decided by a “national conversation”.
President Obama’s chief advisor for science and technology, the infamous Dr. John Holdren, also faced tough questioning on the Administration’s space plans. At the conclusion of Dr. Holdren’s February 24th testimony, Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-AL) put it this way: “The President’s decision to end the Constellation program is reckless and could cripple U.S. human spaceflight for an unknown number of years. Relying on commercial companies that in some cases have little experience with building manned space systems will severely weaken our standing as the world’s leader in human space flight.”
Mr. President, there is your national conversation. Our nation will not simply cede its preeminence in space to foreign powers. We will not merely walk away from the new frontier. We recognize that Russia is, perhaps, not the most reliable taxi service; regardless, a dependency on her, or any other country, to launch our astronauts into space is a national humiliation…. Most of all, we remain a nation of optimists and the longer you govern, the more we realize that you do not share our positive vision of the dream that is America and her place in the world.
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