NASA Budget Under Scrutiny by House Lawmakers
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, a former space shuttle commander, speaks at the 215th Meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Washington, D.C.
Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls.

WASHINGTON — The Constellation program aimed at sending astronauts back to the moon was too expensive, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said Tuesday as he faced another House grilling about the agency's budget.

Rep. Alan Mollohan, D-W.Va., chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee on science, asked Bolden why the administration would discard the Constellation program after spending $9 billion on it.

Bolden said Constellation wouldn't have reached the moon before 2030. Even then, he said the Ares rocket and Orion capsule wouldn't have had a way to return from the moon's surface because that hasn't been budgeted.

"I just couldn't in good conscience recommend that to the president," Bolden said.

President Barack Obama's proposed fiscal 2011 budget proposes boosting funding by $6 billion over five years. He would increase research at the International Space Station and rely on commercial rockets to ferry people there.

The budget has provoked bipartisan outrage in Congress among lawmakers who prefer that U.S. astronauts travel only aboard NASA rockets.

Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., asked Bolden to reply to a congressional request for options that would allow the U.S. to send its own rockets to the space station instead of relying on Russian rockets after the retirement of the shuttle this year.

"We are unable to do that," Bolden said. "There is no alternative budget. There is no plan B."

Mollohan asked why the country can't simply stretch out funding for Constellation, but Bolden warned that pouring another $45 billion to $60 billion into Constellation would starve research programs of funding.

Bolden said NASA would spend less using commercial rockets to reach the space station than it would using its own rockets. He hopes to save NASA money by reducing $600 million to $700 million in overhead supporting Ares.

His goal is to develop a versatile capsule that could sit atop a variety of commercial rockets.

Rep. C.A. "Dutch" Ruppersberger, D-Md., said the changes proposed in the president's budget would occur too quickly. He said proposing $3 billion over five years to develop a heavy-lift rocket to carry people beyond the space station isn't enough.

"I'm concerned that we don't have a roadmap," he said. "Commercial will not get us to the moon. Commercial won't get us to Mars."

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