Perlmutter, Congressional Subcommittee Discuss Deep Space Exploration

Space Subcommittee Hearing. Image Credit: U.S. House of Representatives

Space Subcommittee Hearing. Image Credit: U.S. House of Representatives

October 12, 2015 – On October 9, the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology’s Subcommittee on Space held a hearing titled, “Deep Space Exploration: Examining the Impact of the President’s Budget.” The purpose of the hearing was to examine the Administration’s management of the Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion crew vehicle development programs.

The hearing took place a day after the Obama administration released its Journey to Mars report which contained no budget, schedule, or deadlines.

“I want to comment on the recent handout that we have all seen by the administration called NASA’s Journey to Mars,” said Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas). “This proposal contains no budget; it contains no schedule, no deadlines. This sounds good, but it is actually a journey to nowhere until we have that budget and we have the schedule and we have the deadlines.”

President Obama has requested $440 million in cuts to NASA programs this fiscal year. The House Science Committee’s NASA Authorization Act for 2016 and 2017 sought to restore funding to programs that will return U.S. astronauts to deep space destinations such as the Moon and Mars. That bill also restored funding for planetary science accounts that have been responsible for missions such as the recent New Horizons Pluto fly-by, in addition to providing full funding for other space exploration programs such as the Commercial Crew and Commercial Cargo programs.

“There should be no misunderstanding: there is bipartisan support within Congress for SLS and the Orion crew vehicle. This Committee restored the proposed cuts in our Authorization bill. And the House and the Senate Appropriations Committees restored these funds and supported SLS and Orion at the levels necessary to keep their development on track,” said Smith. “And I hope the administration will change its posture and decide in the future that it is actually going to support SLS and Orion and keep them on schedule because their proposals to cut SLS and Orion every single year is not helping us achieve the great goals that most Americans want to achieve in space.”

Testifying before the Subcommittee were: Mr. Doug Cooke, owner of Cooke Concepts and Solutions and Former Associate Administrator, Exploration Systems, NASA; and Mr. Dan Dumbacher, Professor of Engineering Practice at Purdue University and Former Deputy Associate Administrator, Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate, NASA. U.S. Representative Ed Perlmutter (CO-07) asked several questions about the role of the committee in helping to provide a long-term plan that keeps the SLS and Orion projects on track.

“Given the budget instability and continuous policy debates, the NASA/Industry team is making great progress,” said Dumbacher. “The Space Launch System, its Orion capsule, and their support infrastructure together create the needed foundation for U.S. expansion beyond Earth’s boundaries. Each of the programs is making significant progress, despite fiscal obstacles. The team is diligently working to build this powerful launch vehicle, and its spacecraft, to reach Mars and eventually, go beyond.”

Space Subcommittee Chairman Brian Babin noted what an amazing time it is for the space community.

“A major Hollywood film about the exploration of Mars debuted within days of NASA announcing a significant scientific discovery – liquid water on Mars. The coincidence of these two events garnered the public’s attention, and rightly so,” said Babin. “Rarely does popular culture and science align in such a serendipitous fashion.”

NASA is committed to sending astronauts on a journey to Mars and has been steadily working toward that goal. The SLS will be integrated with Orion for Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1) in 2018. The mission will send an uncrewed Orion spacecraft into lunar distant retrograde orbit – a wide orbit around the moon that is farther from Earth than any spacecraft built for humans has ever traveled. Future missions will carry astronauts to the surface of an asteroid and eventually to Mars.

Lockheed Martin Space Systems of Littleton, Colorado is the prime contractor for the Orion spacecraft, but Orion and SLS depend on the work of hundreds of companies around the U.S.