NASA Budget Under Scrutiny by House Lawmakers

NASA Chief Calls for More International Cooperation in Space
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, a former space shuttle commander, speaks at the 215th Meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Washington, D.C.
(Image: © NASA/Bill Ingalls.)

WASHINGTON — The Constellation program aimed at sendingastronauts back to the moon was too expensive, NASA Administrator CharlesBolden said Tuesday as he faced another House grilling about the agency'sbudget.

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

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

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

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

The budget has provoked bipartisan outrage inCongress among lawmakers who prefer that U.S. astronauts travel only aboardNASA rockets.

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

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

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

Bolden said NASA would spend less usingcommercial rockets to reach the space station than it would using its ownrockets. He hopes to saveNASA money by reducing $600 million to $700 million in overhead supportingAres.

His goal is to develop a versatile capsulethat could sit atop a variety of commercialrockets.

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

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

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