WASHINGTON, D.C. – During a Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing today on funding for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas), Ranking Member on the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, questioned NASA Administrator Charles Bolden on President Obama’s restated vision for the space agency. Senator Hutchison raised concerns about the real risk of losing the space station without a space shuttle or replacement capability.
“The President’s plan for NASA has incredible consequences for our nation and sends a very mixed message,” said Senator Hutchison. “The President says he is committed to science. I don’t see how you can have a commitment to science, but don’t have a commitment to sending humans into space. The space station right now is a key area of science. The space station is the future and Congress and the President have embraced extending the space station until 2020. I am skeptical and very disappointed that we would have a goal of keeping science in the forefront, but no plan to keep people involved in that effort.”
Senator Hutchison also said that at the end of shuttle operations, the only vehicle available to carry any crew members to or from the space station is the Russian Soyuz. “What would happen if there were an accident with the Soyuz that is serious enough to ground it for an extended period of time and we don’t have our own reliable efforts?” Senator Hutchison said. “More importantly, how long would it be before the six-person crew still aboard the ISS would have to evacuate—using two of the very same Soyuz vehicles that just experienced a critical failure, assuming the failure occurred on descent?”
Senator Hutchison went on to ask Administrator Bolden about a number of specific issues that relate to the current planned retirement of the shuttle program and the future sustainability of the International Space Station (ISS). She said that there is no firm date on when a commercial crew launch system might be fully operational. Senator Hutchison also voiced her concerns that without the shuttle to resupply the space station, there would be no way to deliver spare or replacement parts. She noted that these spare parts might be essential to addressing unexpected problems in the short run that might endanger the station, or may be important to extending the life of the station from 2015 until 2020.
Near the end of Administrator Bolden’s time before the Senate Appropriations subcommittee, Senator Hutchison urged him to take her concerns back to the president about the risk to the space station, which would undermine the ability to maintain a human spaceflight capability.
“We can fix it,” Senator Hutchison said. “I hope that all of the Senators who are interested in this will work with you and with the Administration. We can do better than this.”
Senator Hutchison also invited Administrator Bolden to appear at a hearing she has requested for April 28, 2010 before the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee.
You can view Senator Hutchison’s statement here.