Science Dems: No Consensus on Best Path Forward for NASA
For the second time in four months U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Science Members heard directly from NASA's leader, Dr. Michael Griffin, on the status of the work being done at the agency.
Among NASA's current priorities is the Administration’s "vision for space exploration" announced January 12, 2004. The plan proposed returning U.S. astronauts to the Moon by 2020, followed by eventual human missions to Mars. To date, important information is still lacking on how it will be implemented and Committee Democrats seized this opportunity to explore the issue.
"I've said this many times but it bears repeating - I support the President's exploration initiative as long as it is paid for and is sustainable," stated Ranking Member Rep. Bart Gordon (D-TN). "However, I am very concerned that this Administration may not be willing to pay for the vision that it presented to the nation 21 months ago."
"My intent is not to criticize Administrator Griffin. He is not the problem. Rather, I want to make clear that only 21 months into the Vision, NASA has already had to make major cuts to programs and contemplate additional restructurings simply to have the hope of meeting the President’s timetable for returning U.S. astronauts to the Moon," added Rep. Gordon. "That does not bode well for the sustainability of the Vision. And it raises the fundamental question: Is the Vision for Space Exploration an Administration priority - or simply a NASA priority?"
A number of Science Democrats also voiced their concern at today's hearing over NASA's planned cuts to important agency science and research programs, including the continuing decline in the aeronautics budget. NASA is instituting the cuts to make room for implementation of the Administration's exploration plan. Among the NASA programs facing budgetary cuts are the life sciences program and fundamental Space Station research.
"I am worried that NASA is going to have great difficulty in keeping a vital and robust set of space, Earth and life science missions on track in a tightly constrained NASA budgetary environment as those missions inevitably have to compete with the growing demands of the human exploration initiative," added Space Subcommittee Ranking Member Rep. Mark Udall (D-CO). "I hope I am wrong - because NASA's science programs, as well as the university research activities that they support, are in many ways NASA's 'crown jewels' in the eyes of the general public."
"All I'm asking is 'how do we get there from here?'" concluded Rep. Gordon. "And a satisfactory answer is going to require a commitment from the White House - not just NASA."