Lawmakers Demand Documents Behind Human Spaceflight Plan

WASHINGTON ?Frustrated by a lack of visibility into the planning and analysis underpinningNASA?s dramatic shift in course for its human spaceflight program, Houselawmakers have given NASA Administrator Charles Bolden until June 25 to deliverall records, charts, e-mails, voice messages and other supporting materialsused in drafting the agency?s 2011 budget proposal.

Last weekthe House Science and Technology Committee gave NASA until June 16 to flesh outsupporting analysis for the agency?s controversialshift in course, which would abandon the Constellation program, a five-year-oldeffort to develop new rockets and spacecraft to replace the space shuttle andlater, deliver astronauts to the Moon. The new plan entails backing acommercial crew taxi service to the international space station and developingenabling technologies for deep space exploration.

"SinceNASA has failed to provide the Committee with any detailed supporting materialswith which Congress can judge the proposed humanspaceflight plan, Congress must insist upon the production of all materialsNASA relied upon in formulating its proposal," the committee?s chairman,Rep. Bart Gordon (D-Tenn.), wrote in the June 17 letter to Bolden. The letterwas co-signed by Rep. Ralph Hall (R-Texas), the committee?s ranking member, andby Reps. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) and Pete Olson (R-Texas), the chairwomanand ranking member, respectively, of the panel?s space and aeronauticssubcommittee.

Specifically,the letter demands all records relating to the development of NASA?s humanspaceflight proposal that was unveiled along with the agency?s $19billion spending request for the budget year that begins Oct. 1,"including any analysis of the executability of the proposed plan through2025." The letter also demands all records relating to the formulation ofNASA?s revised humanspaceflight proposal announced by U.S. President Barack Obama April 15,which would retain a slimmed-down version of Constellation?s Orion crew capsuleto serve as an emergency crew lifeboat aboard the International Space Station.

In addition,the committee wants all NASA records relating to any budgetary analysis as wellas estimates of the employment impact of canceling the Constellation programand implementing the new plan, "both for the agency and for the privatesector," the letter said. The lawmakers requested that the materials bedelivered to the committee?s room in the Rayburn House Office Building onCapitol Hill "no later than close of business on Friday June 25,2010."

Thecommittee asks that any relevant records that NASA chooses not to share bedocumented "item by item, with the express legal basis for the privilegeclaimed for each item clearly noted."

The letternotes that the committee, in its attempt to review NASA?s plan, has "maderepeated requests for detailed cost and programmatic information which waslacking in the [fiscal] 2011 budget request," and that House lawmakershave asked Bolden and his staff for these materials on at least four separateoccasions.

"Thefailure of NASA to supply Congress with this information hampers our ability toaddress the future of NASA?s human spaceflight program in a timelymanner," the letter states. "Simultaneously, the agency isimplementing dramatic changes to the Constellation program, which are resultingin the loss of thousands of skilled jobs and which will cause unavoidabledelays in the development of Ares-I and Orion, should Congress decide not toterminate those programs."

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SpaceNews Staff Writer

Amy Klamper is a space reporter and former staff writer for the space industry news publication SpaceNews. From 2004 to 2010, Amy covered U.S. space policy, NASA and space industry professionals for SpaceNews. Her stories included profiles on major players in the space industry, space policy work in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, as well as national policy set by the White House.