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Space Luminaries Petition Against House Version of NASA Bill

NASA needs more funding for commercial spaceflight,technology development and robotic missions. So said a group of Nobellaureates, former astronauts and former space agency officials in a recent letterto Congress.

The Aug. 31 letter took aim at the House Science Committee'sNASA authorization bill currently making its way through the U.S. House ofRepresentatives. The letter's 30 signatories argue that the House bill straystoo much from PresidentBarack Obama's proposal for NASA, which they support.

"President Obama?s new strategy revitalizes and expandsour investments in technology, commercial spaceflight, student research, androbotic exploration precursors," the letter states. "These are thekey elements of the President?s new plan for NASA that must be retained in anyconsensus solution reached by Congress and the White House."

The House bill would siphon funds from some of those effortsin order to resurrect NASA's existing Constellationprogram, an effort ?that began under former President George W. Bush to returnastronauts to the moon.

Obama's ?space plan calls for the cancellation of theConstellation program to make way for an ambitious manned mission to anasteroid by 2025. He has also directed NASA to fund commercial spaceshipsto carry astronauts to low-Earth orbit after the space shuttles retire nextyear.

In the letter to House members, seven former astronauts and14 Nobel prize winners spoke out in favor of Obama's space plan.

One of them is Scott Hubbard, a Stanford Universityprofessor and former director of NASA's Ames Research Center in California. Hesaid the NASA authorization bill that recently passedthe Senate is much closer to the plan put forth by Obama, and would offer abetter direction for NASA.

Both the House and Senate bills, as well as the President'sproposal, allocate about $19 billion for NASA in 2011, though each plan directsthe money to be spent somewhat differently, Hubbard told SPACE.com.

"This group of people was deeply concerned about theHouse bill and that?s why we wrote the letter," Hubbard said. "It'sup to the legislatures to figure out what they do. The reason we wrote theletter was that we think there is still time for discussions."

Hubbard and others who signed the House letter agree with thestrategy to fund commercial crew transportation. They contend that it will freeup NASA to focus on exploration beyond Earth.

"Without commercial crew, America will be forced torely for astronaut access to space on the Russian Soyuz for years tocome," the letter states. "NASA should invest far more in America?slaunch industry than it invests in Russia?s launch industry, but the currentHouse Science Committee authorization bill fails this test, sending over $900 millionto Russia to buy seats on Soyuz over the next three years but only putting $450million into commercial crew during the same period, and only allocating $14million for the Commercial Cargo Program."

The group also objects to the House bill's cutting fundingfor developing new space exploration technology, funding space research byuniversity students, and money for robotic precursor missions to precede humanexploration trips.

"To ensure the highest scientific return on human explorationmissions and to maximize the safety of human explorers traveling to newdestinations, it is critical that NASA send robotic precursor missions tocharacterize hazards and scout out locations of future explorationinterest," the letter states.

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