Space Experts Highlight Need for Enduring Leadership in Space to Strengthen National Security and Continue Scientific Advancements

Sen. Hutchison Urges NASA to Adhere to Authorization Strategy

May 18, 2011

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas), Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, today pressed space experts on the importance and capability of continued manned spaceflight at a hearing of the Science and Space Subcommittee. Sen. Hutchison expressed her concern that the administration is delaying implementation of the NASA Reauthorization bill, passed unanimously out of the Senate and signed into law, last year. She called for continued use of the International Space Station (ISS) and efforts to preserve NASA’s skilled workforce.

“We have worked very hard to move NASA forward, and I think that the authorization bill that brought together the need for the commercial investment with the use of NASA’s workforce that has the experience of so many years of building the rockets and the launchers, and it strikes the appropriate balance,” said Sen. Hutchison.

Sen. Hutchison also stressed the importance of leveraging the ISS. She said, “We must use the opportunity for the unique research possible in the Space Station if we are going to reap the benefits from the investment we have made.”

Sen. Hutchison also pressed the witnesses, including Captain Frank L. Culbertson Jr., Astronaut and former Commanders of the International Space Station, whether NASA’s workforce stands strong enough to continue its mission amid layoffs and budget constraints.           

“We are very concerned about the delays, the indecision, and the seeming unmotivated approach to modifying contracts so that [NASA] can keep the industrial base. From 14,000 contractors and civil servants that have been in the space shuttle work force, we are now down to about 7,000, so we’ve cut our expertise and our workforce in half, but what we were trying to do in the authorization bill was to create a new vehicle where these people who are transferred can keep their expertise rather than have them leave and not be able to get them back,” said Sen. Hutchison.

Capt. Culbertson expressed concern over layoffs, but assured Sen. Hutchison that the workforce is still strong, testifying, “the workforce on both the government and industry side that I see is still extremely competent, still capable of leading, still capable of making the right decisions and conducting operations safely, as well as moving out on the programs that are currently in the authorization bill.”

Along with Capt. Culbertson, other witnesses included Elliot Holokauahi Pulham, CEO, Space Foundation; Frank Slazer, Vice President of Space Systems, Aerospace Industries Association; and Dr. Christopher F. Chyba, Professor of Astrophysics and International Affairs, Director, Program on Science and Global Security, Princeton University.