NASA Gives Senate Panel Documents on Heavy-lift Rocket

Ares V rocket
This artist's concept shows the Ares V cargo launch vehicle, a rocket that may be similar to NASA's Space Launch System (SLS) in many ways. (Image credit: NASA/MSFC)

WASHINGTON — The deadline Monday passed without a threatened Senate subpoena being issued for NASA documents about development of its next heavy-lift rocket.

"The agency is working to respond to the Senate commerce committee request and compiling the records requested," NASA spokesman J.D. Harrington said Monday (June 27).

Democratic Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, chairman of the Senate science committee, and the committee's top Republican, Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas, threatened on Wednesday (June 29) to subpoena documents they want about the rocket if NASA didn't provide them by 6 p.m. EDT Monday.

Development of a heavy-lift rocket was key to a congressional compromise in October supporting both that program and development of commercial rockets to ferry people to the International Space Station in place of the canceled return-to-the-moon Constellation program.

But lawmakers have been disappointed in the amount of documents that NASA has provided about how it will pursue the heavy-lift rocket, which is competing for budget dollars with commercial rockets. And there have been concerns that NASA isn't adequately pursuing this policy goal. [Photos: NASA's New Spaceship for Deep Space]

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden wrote lawmakers Thursday that the agency had provided hundreds of pages of contract documents and that agency staffers are in regular contact with committee staffers.

Senators and their staffers are reviewing the documents NASA has provided and no subpoena was issued Monday.

Lawmakers agreed to a blueprint for $10.8 billion over three years to build a heavy-lift vehicle by 2016. But in the fiscal year starting Oct. 1, President Barack Obama proposed spending only $2.8 billion on heavy lift, rather than the $4 billion envisioned by Congress.

Obama has proposed spending $850 million developing commercial rockets, rather than the $500 million envisioned in the congressional compromise.

Harrington said NASA is working aggressively to implement the congressional policy for a heavy-lift rocket, aimed at furthering the agency's deep-space exploration goals. He cited the selection of the crew capsule and the announcement of a precursor mission to an asteroid, which could eventually lead to a human visit, as examples.

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