Voices: Experts and Analysts Weigh In On NASA's New Direction
This story was updated Oct. 4 at 11:05 a.m. EDT
A NASA authorization bill that will pave the way for several NASA projects ? including an extra space shuttle flight and the development of a heavy-lift rocket for future missions to an asteroid and Mars ? was passed by Congress late Wednesday (Sept. 29).
The bill, S. 3729, which was approved by the House, includes a $19 billion budget in 2011 for the U.S. space agency, and a total of $58 billion through 2013.
It also allows NASA to extend its role in the International Space Station through at least 2020 and sets aside $1.3 billion over three years to support the development of commercial spacecraft.
SPACE.com asked several experts, analysts and stakeholders about their thoughts on NASA's new direction. Here are their responses and statements:
Elon Musk, SpaceX (Space Exploration Technologies) CEO
"Competitive commercial crew transport with multiple providers is definitely the right direction for NASA vs the old style government monopoly approach. The former is how all other modes of transport work and do so safely and efficiently."
Charles Bolden, NASA Chief
"We are grateful that the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Authorization Act of 2010 received strong support in the House after its clearance in the Senate, and can now be sent on to the President for his signature.
The President has laid out an ambitious new plan for NASA that pioneers new frontiers of innovation and discovery. The plan invests more in NASA; extends the life of the International Space Station; launches a commercial space transportation industry; fosters the development of path-breaking technologies; and helps create thousands of new jobs. Passage of this bill represents an important step forward towards helping us achieve the key goals set by the President.
This important change in direction will not only help us chart a new path in space, but can help us retool for the industries and jobs of the future that will be vital for long term economic growth."
David Morrison, Director of the Carl Sagan Center for Study of Life in the Universe at the SETI Institute and Director of the NASA Lunar Science Institute
"I can't comment since we don't yet know what direction it will be. Until Congress passes an appropriation and the President signs it, we are somewhat in limbo."
Robert Zubrin, president of the Mars Society
"I don't think that NASA has a direction. That is precisely the problem. The administration is proposing to spend 10 years and $100 billion to accomplish nothing. NASA needs a goal. That goal should be humans to Mars by 2020."
Leroy Chiao, former NASA astronaut
"I remain cautiously optimistic for the future of NASA and US Human Spaceflight. While the transition has not and will not be easy, my hope is that the result will be a more robust and sustainable program which reaches beyond Low Earth Orbit (LEO) within a reasonable timeline.
The NASA Authorization (S.3279) was an overall compromise that was politically realistic. It calls for beyond-LEO exploration, the development of a heavy-lift booster and funding for stimulating commercial crew transportation to LEO. It also calls for the development of a crew exploration vehicle that retains essential elements of Orion. My hope is that this will allow NASA to move forward."
Mike Mealling, VP Business Development, Masten Space Systems
"The Senate legislation isn't perfect, but it allows commercial companies to prove themselves in very short order while assuaging the fears of those unfamiliar with what commercial space companies can accomplish. Regarding exploration, I do hope that NASA is allowed to choose an affordable path forward on heavy lift, one that fits inside Senator Nelson's cost cap of $11.5 billion, so we don't have to go through another Presidential Commission in another five years."
Clark Chapman, senior scientist at the Southwest Research Institute
"I have not had the chance to study the bill in detail (e.g. about the aspects I am most interested in, including the science programs and eventual human exploration of the asteroids, the moon, and Mars), but I gather that it retains many features of President Obama's plans. I don't have strong opinions about exactly how NASA should get out of its doldrums within the presently available funds, particularly with regard to disposition of the shuttle and the ISS, and the role of commercial companies in future human space travel. I only hope that something can be agreed upon. As I understand it, this is only one in a series of steps that must be taken to move forward, with appropriations still in the future."
Neil deGrasse Tyson, astrophysicist, director of New York City's Hayden Planetarium
"NASA, it seems, has had a "new direction" every year for the past decade. How can it be so hard for everyone to agree that the right direction for NASA is up? Last I checked, Republicans and Democrats, the Senate and the House, industry and entrepreneurs, were all fighting one another over NASA's future. NASA is not the kind of agency whose future should be settled in compromise. Perhaps these warring factions have lost sight that it's the American people, and not they, who are NASA's primary stake-holders."
Louis Friedman, executive director of the Planetary Society, via blog
"The NASA Authorization bills proposed in Congress barely mention exploration. They contain heavy prescriptions for how to build things, pointing to specific contractors. Having politicians design our rockets, propulsion systems, crew vehicles and payloads is a prescription for spending lots of money and accomplishing little. When President Kennedy told NASA to get to the Moon, Congress didn?t prescribe the payload capacity of Saturn or its choice of fuel. Nor did they prescribe Earth orbit rendezvous or Moon orbit rendezvous. They left those designs to engineers and scientists. The same needs to happen now.
That?s why I personally oppose both Authorization bills. I am putting my hopes in the Appropriations Committees. Maybe they will authorize the funding and tell NASA to get beyond the Moon, leaving how to the scientists and engineers. Or maybe I am too na?ve."
Mike Griffin, NASA's former Chief, in an interview The Huntsville Times
"While it is true that the Senate bill offers some improvement over the Obama administration's ill-advised plan for NASA, in my considered opinion it is not enough better to warrant its support in law.
As happened after the loss of space shuttle Columbia, it is time once again to ask ourselves whether we want to have a real space program, or not. If we do, then the Senate bill won't get us there. If we cannot do better than that, then I believe we have reached the point where it is better to allow the damage which has been brought about by the administration's actions to play out to its conclusion than to accept half-measures in an attempt at remediation."
Elliot Pulham, Space Foundation CEO
"America's civil space program has been in costly and divisive turmoil since Congress received the President's FY11 budget proposal. Although the Senate-crafted direction for NASA is an imperfect compromise, its passage, with the President expected to sign the bill into law, should help stabilize the space agency and industry for the near term.
Some form of compromise had to be found or U.S. leadership in space exploration would have been in jeopardy. NASA has always enjoyed strong bipartisan support in Congress, and it's gratifying to see that Congress continues to view NASA as an important investment in the nation's future."
Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), credited with shaping the Senate version of the bill
"This is a great night for our nation's space program. Now we have to make sure the agency gets the funding necessary to get the job done."
Congressman Bart Gordon (D-TN), Committee on Science and Technology Chairman
"It has been a difficult year for NASA and its civil servants and contractor workforce. We are in tough economic times, and sacrifices will have to be made. However, NASA is an investment in our future, and in the future of our children. The United States has been a global leader in space exploration and technology and innovation, and our efforts over the remainder of this Congress should be aimed at preserving that leadership position.?
Rep. Ralph Hall (R-TX), Ranking Member of the House Science and Technology Committee
"While I am not completely satisfied with the Senate bill, I am very pleased it passed? Congress is obligated to provide clear policy direction to NASA to keep vital agency programs funded and on track. While I preferred the compromise language offered by Chairman Gordon, I am pleased that we were at least able to pass a bill.
This Administration?s misguided plan for human spaceflight would put NASA on a dangerous and unproven path. It is essential for Congress to weigh-in and pass a bill to counter these policy objectives; otherwise we would essentially be rubberstamping the White House plan.
S. 3729 keeps important programs funded, directs NASA to develop a multipurpose crew vehicle and a new heavy-lift launch system, and allows commercial space companies to prove their capabilities. Without a bill, the jobs of a world class NASA workforce and thousands of highly-skilled private contractors who support human space flight would have been lost."
Rep. Suzanne Kosmas (D-New Smyrna Beach)
"This legislation is critical to our efforts to help protect Space Coast jobs and minimize the human spaceflight gap. Adding another Shuttle flight is a major success in our fight to preserve our highly skilled workforce and ease the transition for the Space Coast. In addition, this bill accelerates the development of a NASA-led vehicle to keep NASA strong, while at the same time supporting the growth of the commercial spaceflight industry, which will help diversify the local economy and provide new opportunities for Space Coast workers.
Quickly signing this legislation into law will provide much-needed direction and stability for NASA and the Space Coast while maintaining America?s global leadership in space exploration."
Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Arizona), chair of the House Science space and aeronautics subcommittee
During the House debate on the bill, she said, "will force NASA to build a rocket designed by Senators and not by engineers."
Several members of the House Science and Technology Committee joined Giffords in opposing the bill, including them Reps. Donna Edwards (D-Md.), David Wu (D-Ore.) and F. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wisc.), according to Space News.
Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.), member of the House Appropriations subcommittee that oversees NASA spending
"I am not convinced this Administration is serious about human spaceflight goals beyond the Space Station, so I will be working with my colleagues to help make our space program goals worthy of this great nation. I can assure you that there will be an unusual level of congressional oversight and scrutiny given to how these taxpayer dollars are spent."
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