Chairman Rockefeller Remarks on the Future of U.S. Human Space Flight

May 12, 2010

JDR Head ShotWASHINGTON, D.C.—Our space program is at a turning point. Earlier this year, the Obama Administration charted a new course for NASA, and I know there is still a lot of uncertainty, particularly when it comes to the proposed plans for human spaceflight. This hearing is an important opportunity to take a close look at those plans.

I have said it before in this Committee, and I have addressed it directly with Administrator Bolden during his confirmation: I believe we need a new direction. To many, including myself, defenders of the status quo for NASA seem to justify their views solely because of the impact on jobs. I can relate as much as anyone to the fight for jobs in my state. It is always the utmost priority – but we must strike a balance between economic development and modernizing our space program so we can remain competitive for years to come.

NASA’s first mission must be to do what is best for the nation. The American people deserve the most from their space program. NASA’s role cannot stay static. The President has challenged the United States Government to seek greater international collaboration, enable commercial services and develop new exploration technologies. These are good priorities and should help ensure that in tough fiscal times, we build our space future in a measured, relevant, innovative, and sustainable way. This is not easy to do but we can do it – and we must. Because of budget constraints, NASA’s current budget of $18 billion may be a high water mark for years to come. We cannot assume the agency will have unlimited resources for every mission it wants to undertake. We have to make hard choices.

Today, I look forward to taking a robust evaluation of the agency’s plans for human space flight. But more than that, we have to measure and shape those goals against our greater national priorities for the years and decades ahead. NASA’s research in aeronautics helped create our global leadership in aviation; we need its scientific minds to be solving today’s and tomorrow’s challenges in energy, medical research, and robotics. In addition, we need to understand how it will support our workforce, protect our industrial base, ensure national security, and strengthen international relationships. And we have to examine how we use human space flight as an important tool of smart-power, exemplified by our International Space Station partnership with strong U.S. and Russian participation. Efforts like this can build stability, ensure global access to space, and help us move toward greater transparency as we establish “rules of the road” in space.

I know that our focus today is specifically on human spaceflight, but I do not want anyone to forget the agency’s broader priorities, including exploration but also science, aeronautics, education, and technology. These are a foundation for our future. They are enormously important, and I hope the agency finds that balance again as we move forward. I also hope that we will increase our focus on tying NASA’s human space flight efforts to benefits in these areas.

I want to thank all of our witnesses today – including Mr. Neil Armstrong, Commander of Apollo 11 and Captain Eugene Cernan, Commander of Apollo 17 – for your service to your country and for sharing your insight here today. In the past, I have been critical of NASA’s financial and program management. As we move toward reauthorization, I firmly believe this committee has a significant oversight role to play. NASA cannot continue down the same path. Thank you.