Hutchison Calls on NASA to Announce SLS Design Immediately

Senator: Don’t Allow Layoffs to Occur Next Week

August 19, 2011

WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, Ranking Member of the U.S. Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, today issued the following statement regarding NASA’s implementation of the NASA Authorization Act of 2010, particularly with regard to the direction of U.S. human spaceflight programs:

"Today NASA is scheduled to formally receive the independent cost assessment for the Space Launch System (SLS) that was requested by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).  I expect this independent assessment will confirm what myself and the NASA technical staff have known for many months – that the SLS plan is financially and technically sound, and that NASA should move forward immediately. 

“I remain very concerned about continuing delays.  The 2010 NASA Authorization Act required NASA to bring forward a plan by January 10, 2011.  The political leadership at NASA and at OMB has dragged their feet on implementation.  After many requests for NASA to comply with the law, the Commerce Committee finally initiated a formal investigation earlier this summer.  While that investigation is ongoing, I reiterate my call to NASA and the Administration to proceed with its SLS development program immediately, in compliance with the law.

“NASA has been working on the development of the SLS for more than a year, as reflected in its Broad Agency Announcement in June 2010 regarding development approaches for a Heavy Lift Vehicle.  NASA began reviewing additional alternatives for the SLS in November of 2010.  Since then, more than over 5,500 jobs have been lost, many of which could have been transferred to the SLS program.  This past June, Administrator Bolden confirmed to us that NASA had a design for the SLS.  However, a formal announcement was delayed while the Administration awaited the results of an independent cost assessment, a delay that has cost 3,000 jobs. The next set of layoff notices for most of the remaining space shuttle and Constellation workers who can transition to the SLS program is expected to occur next week.  We cannot delay in announcing the plan that can provide a focus and a purpose for workers that remain and for the industries that rely on our space program to survive.

“Commerce Committee staff have been briefed by Booz Allen Hamilton on their study approach and NASA has provided the baseline schedule and budget assumptions on which the Booz Allen Hamilton assessment is based, and has committed to deliver the report to the Congress later today.  I expect the assessment will confirm what Congress and the NASA technical experts have known for nine months, that the Administration could have approved the vehicle design concept months ago, prevented the loss of thousands of jobs, and ensured U.S. leadership in space and science. While I have concerns that the funding levels and schedule contained in the assessment do not achieve the timeline for a return to U.S. manned spaceflight as required in the NASA Authorization Act of 2010, the Administration should immediately announce a formal decision approving the vehicle design concept and prevent the loss of even more jobs and the further deterioration of our human space flight capabilities. We can then work together, and on a bipartisan basis, to identify and seek to provide the resources that can bring these vehicles to reality.

"This underscores my frustration at the continuing delay in announcing the plans for our path forward.  When NASA resisted our inquiries into the reason for delay in the announcement the Committee issued a subpoena for information and documents. 

"The contributions our space program has made generally to science, our national security, and economy are invaluable and a prime example of why we need to do everything we can to maintain our leadership role.  I remain confident that the design concept outlined in the 2010 NASA Authorization Act, supported by the NASA technical experts, and reaffirmed though independent cost assessments, is solid and provides a path forward to a safe and sustainable national human space launch capability for future exploration beyond low-Earth orbit. I am reassured that the Space Launch System can be developed in a way that meets the core requirements laid out in the Act, and restate my commitment to work with NASA, the White House, and my colleagues in Congress to restore and sustain America's leadership in human spaceflight."

For more background information on the delay see timeline below.




SLS/MPCV Development Decision Timeline Summary


  • June 29, 2010 - Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) for Heavy Launch Vehicle (HLV) inputs. (Note: This predates the introduction of the Senate NASA authorization bill, S. 3729, and reflects the fact that industry was developing considerations of potential HLV options pursuant to Administration's intended cancellation of Constellation.
  • October 11, 2010 - Enactment of P.L. 111-267, the NASA Authorization Act of 2010.
  • November 4, 2010 - Initiation of Requirements Analysis Cycle (RAC) teams to evaluate alternative design options for HLV/Space Launch System (SLS).
  • November 9, 2010 - HLV BAA Awardees announced to provide inputs on efficiencies and approaches to HLV development. 
  • December 1, 2010 – Commerce Committee hearing held to discuss the Administration’s commitment to the implementation of P.L. 111-267, with Dr. John Holdren (Director, OSTP) and Dr. Beth Robinson (CFO, NASA) as witnesses.  Dr. Robinson testified that no apparent obstacle had yet appeared to pursue SLS or the Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV).
  • December 6, 2010 - NASA establishes "Planning Teams" for Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle and SLS at Johnson Space Center and Marshall Spaceflight Center, respectively.
  • January 11, 2011 - Delivery of NASA Authorization Act Section 309 Report on SLS design (defined as "preliminary" by NASA). "Final" plan promised by Spring 2011.
  • May 6, 2011 – Commerce Committee is informed that the date for the anticipated completion of 309 Report had slipped to June.
  • May 18, 2011 - Due to continued delay and apparent uncertainty in SLS design decision, Committee issues letter requesting detailed information and documents regarding decision process.
  • May 24, 2011 - NASA Public Announcement on use of Orion contract for purposes of implementing MPCV Procurement as authorized by P.L. 111-267. (Note: This is approximately six months after a December 1, 2010 Commerce Committee hearing when the NASA CFO indicated that there was no apparent issue with this approach.)
  • June 15, 2011 – NASA Administrator makes a decision about the design of the new Space Launch System.
  • July 22, 2011 – Administrator Bolden sent a letter to Senators Hutchison and Nelson confirming that NASA had, on June 15, 2011, made a decision about the design of an SLS that is consistent with the requirements outlined by the NASA Authorization Act of 2010.
  • July 27, 2011- As a result of continued resistance and delay in delivery and production of relevant documents, the Commerce Committee issued a subpoena to spur the production of documents.
  • August 19, 2011 – Booz Allen Hamilton is expected to deliver its Independent Cost Assessment to NASA which confirms that NASA can move forward with implementation of SLS.