IN CASE YOU MISSED IT - Orlando Sentinel Op-Ed by Sen. Hutchison: Bipartisan approach to NASA in Congress

April 15, 2010

Hutchison PortraitWASHINGTON, D.C. – Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas), Ranking Member on the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, authored an opinion piece in the Orlando Sentinel on the need for a bipartisan approach to NASA in advance of President Obama’s trip to Florida today.

Orlando Sentinel

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison: Bipartisan approach to NASA in Congress

By Kay Bailey Hutchison | Guest columnist

April 15, 2010

I hope President Obama, while in Florida today, will recognize Congress' bipartisan interest in working on a plan for NASA's future — a plan that prioritizes scientific research, protects our $100billion investment in the International Space Station and ensures that America retains independent human spaceflight capability.

In March, I introduced legislation that provides this framework, and companion legislation has been introduced in the House of Representatives by Suzanne Kosmas, a Democrat, and Bill Posey, a Republican. This can serve as a starting point for bridging the differences between the president's proposal and the views of many in Congress.

We may miss an opportunity to work together on a bipartisan framework unless the administration alters its current approach. The current plan has created an unnecessary choice between the bold view the president proposes of transitioning to new technology and maintaining a viable space station with American human spaceflight capability over the next few years. We can and must do both.

The decision to discontinue the shuttle program this year was based on a station service end date of 2015. While I commend the decision to extend the life of the station until 2020, flying the remaining shuttles scheduled for this year before completing an analysis of the station's needs based on the new service date is a mistake.

We must determine the parts and equipment needed to extend the station's life and ensure we have the capability to deliver them. If we were to end the shuttle program as scheduled, we would be dependent on the Russian Soyuz vehicle and other available cargo vehicles, which lack the capability necessary.

The president's proposal fails to recognize this and endangers our ability to sustain the station until 2020.

The president's proposal also relies on a still-emerging commercial space industry to develop the launch and crew-carrying capability to replace the shuttle. I support the development of a commercial capability, but only as a supplement to a NASA capability. Much of the "business case" for a commercial system is based on the assumption of a viable space station.

If the risk to station survivability presented by the president's proposal is not addressed, the case for investment in the commercial sector may weaken, and the development of these capabilities may not materialize. If this happens, America would have no long-term spaceflight capability and would need to rely on other nations for access to space. That level of risk is entirely unacceptable for a nation with our proud history of space leadership.

We need an approach that ensures sustainability of the station, facilitates the transition to a replacement for the shuttle, and reduces the gap in our nation's ability to reach space. My legislation would address these issues by allowing for the extension of the shuttle, if needed for station sustainability, at a reduced rate of two flights per year. It also authorizes the accelerated development of a NASA-owned shuttle replacement, such as a shuttle-derived design using existing systems and capabilities and the current contractor work force.

This might be available in time to shorten our reliance on other nations for access to space after the shuttle's retirement. All of this can be done while allowing for the change in NASA's long-term mission and the increase in scientific research and technology funding envisioned in the president's proposal.

Simply moving the remaining shuttle flights scheduled for this year into 2011 and 2012 and adding the backup flight already prepared as a contingency would provide enough flexibility to complete the analysis of station needs and guarantee a cargo capability for two more years. It is possible to accomplish this modest but critical goal while holding the line on spending at the level in the president's budget.

The principles necessary to bridge the gap between the president and Congress have been set forward by our bipartisan legislation. All that is needed to align these principles with the president's goals and budget realities is a willingness to take the same risks that have been hallmarks of our nation's commitment to space exploration. The existing bipartisan foundation can make this a cooperative effort.

Kay Bailey Hutchison, Texas' senior senator, is the ranking Republican on the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Technology, which has legislative oversight of NASA.

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For more information on Senator Hutchison’s legislation please click here.