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H.R.5781- National Aeronautics and Space Administration Authorization Act of 2010

Tuesday, August 24, 2010 - 10:00am

Opening Statement By Chairman Bart Gordon

Good morning. Today the Committee is meeting to mark up H.R. 5781, the NASA Authorization Act of 2010. It has been a challenging road to get to today’s markup, because the issues we are addressing go to the core of what we want from NASA and our nation’s space and aeronautics program.

This Committee, and in particular the Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee under the able leadership of Chairwoman Giffords, have tried to take the time needed to examine those issues carefully and to get as much information as we could from the Administration about its proposed plans for NASA.
As a result, the bill before us today reflects the constructive input of the many witnesses who testified at the 19 hearings that the Committee and Subcommittee have held to date on those issues in the 111th Congress.
We have also heard from a variety of experts and stakeholders from government, the commercial sector, the science community, the Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel, other advisory committees, and numerous organizations and individuals.
We have benefited from all of their views. 
Let me be clear. The bill before us is not perfect.
I believe that there are a number of amendments that will be offered today that will improve it. That’s what the legislative process is all about.
However, I think it is a good bill that makes the hard choices that need to be made.
We are in tough economic times, and we cannot do it all.
While I believe it is important that NASA remain a multi-mission agency with challenging initiatives in science, aeronautics, and human space flight and exploration, I also want to ensure that NASA’s missions are matched to available resources.
As a result, some of the “nice-to-haves” have had to be deferred, and worthy activities have been funded at lower levels than some of us would like.
Nevertheless, I think the legislation before us sets a clear, sustainable, and executable path for NASA, especially in the area of human space flight.
That has been part of the dilemma that we have been confronting.
For all of its accomplishments, the Constellation program was not executable as planned, given the budgetary outlook facing the agency.
Unfortunately, it has become clear that the Administration’s proposed human space flight program is not executable under that budgetary outlook either.
As a result, we have had to craft an alternative approach that is executable, and that’s taken some time, but I believe that the bill before us today provides the nation with a productive future for its human space flight program—one that can be sustained even in the midst of budgetary uncertainty.
In the interests of time, I will not restate what is in the bill; I know that Members are familiar with the provisions.
Instead, I will simply say that this bill represents a balanced, fiscally responsible, and bipartisan approach to authorizing NASA’s programs.
I want to emphasize the fact that it is a bipartisan bill, and in that regard I am gratified that Ranking Member Hall and Ranking Member Olson have joined Chairwoman Giffords and I as original cosponsors of this legislation.
They have made thoughtful and constructive contributions to the bill, and I thank them for that.
I imagine there will be amendments before us today on which four of us may disagree, but no one should construe that to mean that we are not united on the need for a strong, robust, and innovative space and aeronautics program for America.
The bipartisan nature of this bill sends an important message to Congress as a whole, as well as to the Administration, that NASA is a national resource worthy of our support.
With that, I urge my colleagues to support this bill, and I now turn to Mr. Hall for his opening statement.

Opening Statement By Chairwoman Gabrielle Giffords

Thank you Mr. Chairman.

We stand now at a crossroads. What we decide today, and in this Congress, will determine the future of America’s space program. We will determine whether America will continue to have a human spaceflight program second to none, or not. We will determine whether America will continue to push the forefront of space science and technology, or not. We will determine whether America will continue to foster the innovation that will drive our 21st century economy, or not. And we will determine whether America will continue to inspire the youths of America and the citizens of the world, or not.
But we didn’t arrive at this crossroad suddenly.
Over the last year and a half, this committee, and my subcommittee, have held 15 oversight hearings on NASA, exploring these and the many other issues facing America’s space program today. And over this last year and a half, we have had to face an unsettling reality.
As the Augustine Committee made clear, our exploration program of record was unexecutable within the current budget. In response to this report, the President introduced his 2011 budget, which included a number of serious changes to NASA programs.
We have held four hearings with witnesses from NASA as well as outside experts to delve into these proposals and their effects on our spaceflight program. Unfortunately, many of our questions remained unanswered.
So, the leadership of this committee twice reached out to NASA to get a better justification of the President’s proposals – and twice we were rebuffed. The unfortunate truth is that the administration did not provide this committee with the depth of information necessary to justify many of its proposals.
To this day, we have yet to receive a budget that reflects the changes to the new plan that the President announced on April 15th. Nor have we received any technical assessment performed by NASA to support this plan. I find this most disappointing. I hope that in the future the administration will work more closely with this committee to better inform this very important process.
When we set upon our task to determine the future of America’s human spaceflight program, one goal was paramount in our minds: develop a sustainable program that will guarantee American access to space and put us on a path to explore beyond low-earth orbit – something we have not done for 37 years
The result is a bill that provides a pragmatic path forward and gives NASA a clear sense of purpose and direction in a way that also recognizes the nation’s need for fiscal restraint.
As I have said before, the President’s request contained many good proposals, which this bill has retained:
  • It authorizes NASA’s programs and activities for five years, with total annual funding of $19 billion in FY 2011, rising modestly to $20.99 billion in FY 2015
  • It extends, through at least 2020, the life of the International Space Station (ISS), a premier laboratory that should be considered a modern wonder of the universe.
  • And it continues, and in fact expands, our commitment to science and aeronautics.
However, our approach differs from the President’s proposal on a number of issues - most notably on the development of human spaceflight systems.
This bill directs the NASA Administrator to restructure the current exploration program to develop and demonstrate a government-owned crew transportation system to provide assured access to low-Earth orbit, as well as a heavy lift transportation system to provide the backbone for exploration missions.
As I have often stated, our role in Congress is not to pick winners and losers. We aren’t trying to design a rocket in this committee. We know that the best and brightest minds in the country are in NASA centers around the country and they should be designing this architecture. So this bill requires NASA to bring those minds to bear on this issue.
NASA will tell us in the following months how they will fly to the ISS by 2016 with a crew vessel evolvable to one day explore the solar system. NASA will tell us how they will build a Heavy Lift Vehicle that will begin flying by the end of this decade and prepare us to once again leave low-earth orbit. The restructured exploration program will ensure that America will continue to play a leadership role in human space flight and exploration, in spite of challenging economic times.
The bill also recognizes the value of encouraging the growth of a healthy, self-sustaining U.S. commercial space sector by providing the nascent commercial crew industry with access to NASA technologies and facilities as well as assistance in the form of loans and loan guarantees. Additionally, this bill reinforces that NASA will turn over crew transportation to commercial providers when they have proven they can accomplish the task safely. The prize is out there; it’s up to American entrepreneurs to seize it.
This bill contains a number of other great pieces:
  • Supporting the operation and full utilization of the ISS through at least 2020 and establishing an ISS research management entity
  • Augmenting funding to revitalize fundamental space life and physical science research
  • Establishing a grants program to assist workers and communities affected by the end of the Shuttle Program
  • Providing a modest increase to smaller space science projects including suborbital science and scientist-led Explorer programs that demonstrate cutting-edge scientific concepts and technological approaches, and offer hands-on opportunities for students and young researchers to ensure that our nation’s space science program has a robust and vibrant foundation to continue these discoveries in the decades to come.   
  • Taking steps to ensure progress is being made on NASA’s environmentally friendly aircraft research and development
  • Reinvigorating NASA’s long-term space technology research and development activity.
So, we stand at a crossroad for America’s space program.
We will create our own path with changes we make today and I know that what will emerge will produce an executable and sustainable program that will get us exploring the heavens again soon. The clock is ticking, and it is important that Congress complete its work on the NASA reauthorization so that the nation’s space program can once again have a clear direction. I want to thank you and Ranking Members Hall and Olson for all of your efforts as well as the rest of this committee. It is a pleasure to serve on a committee with such engaged members. The nation needs just such engagement at this critical time.
With that, I yield back the balance of my time.

111th Congress