News / USA

NASA's Chief Defends Commercial Spaceflight Agreements

NASA Unveils Next-Generation RocketNASA Unveils Next-Generation Rocket
NASA Unveils Next-Generation Rocket
NASA Unveils Next-Generation Rocket
Suzanne Presto
NASA chief Charles Bolden found himself defending the U.S. space agency's practice of investing in commercial companies to ferry cargo - and one day crew - to the International Space Station. The grilling came less than a week after Orbital Science's successful rocket test flight and after several successful SpaceX cargo flights to the International Space Station.

Senators on the appropriations subcommittee for Commerce, Justice and Science questioned NASA's priorities as they scrutinized the president's request for $17.7 billion to fund the U.S. space agency in fiscal year 2014. Specifically, they questioned NASA's ability to see through its plans to develop a heavy-lift rocket, known as the Space Launch System or SLS, while balancing investments in commercial enterprises to transport cargo and crew to the space station.    


The subcommittee's two top lawmakers, chairwoman Barbara Mikulski of Maryland and vice-chairman Richard Shelby of Alabama, have NASA facilities in their states.  
Senator Shelby said he was concerned that the proposed budget is an example of "chasing the next great idea while sacrificing current investments."  

"This budget focuses, I believe, too heavily on maintaining the fiction of privately funded commercial launch vehicles, which diverts, I think, critical resources from NASA's goal of developing human spaceflight capabilities with the SLS," said Shelby.
NASA Administrator Bolden said NASA's priorities remain the world's most powerful rocket - the SLS, as well as the James Webb Space Telescope -- the Hubble's successor -- and the International Space Station, shored up by commercial crew and cargo transportation.  He called 2013 "a year of decision."  

"If we do not get $822 million in the 2014 budget as requested by the president, it will be my unfortunate duty to advise the Congress and the president that we probably will not make 2017 for the availability of an American capability to get our astronauts to space," said Bolden.  "And I will have to tell you that I'm going to have to come back and ask for authorization to once again pay the Russians to take our crews to space."  

Reliance on Russia

The NASA administrator noted that a funding request in 2011 was not met, so the United States was unable to launch astronauts from its soil in 2015, as had been hoped.  The U.S. has not had a vehicle to take astronauts to the space station since it retired the shuttle fleet two years ago.  NASA is relying on commercial firms to handle transport to the space station so it can focus its attention on developing the next-generation of rockets and capsules that can go beyond low-Earth orbit -- to an asteroid or Mars.
Russian transport to the space station is costly.  The U.S. signed a contract in 2011 to pay $753 million to Russia in exchange for transport and related services for 12 astronauts from 2014 through mid-2016.  


NASA's Bolden, himself a former astronaut, also emphasized the negative effects of looming, mandatory across-the-board spending cuts known as sequestration.  He said, if implemented, the cuts will potentially impact the James Webb Space Telescope, certainly impact the SLS heavy lift rocket and Orion capsule and, in his words, "devastate commercial crew and cargo."

"You know, right now we're flying 20 commercial cargo missions to the International Space Station over the next five years for three-point-some-odd billion dollars - an incredible value to the nation," he said.  "I can't carry that out under sequester."

The U.S. space agency chief also countered suggestions that some agreements with commercial companies lack transparency and are too lenient on deadlines.  Bolden disagreed, saying such agreements give American industry leeway to produce spacecraft that fulfill NASA's requirements.  He added that the agreements have worked very well, as demonstrated by the successes of both Orbital and SpaceX vehicles.

You May Like

Isolation, Despair Weigh on Refugees in Remote German Camp

Refugees resettled near village of Holzdorf deep in German forestland say there is limited interaction with public, mutual feelings of distrust

Britons Divided Over Bombing IS

Surveys show Europeans generally support more military action against Islamic State militants, but sizable opposition exists in Britain

Russia Blacklists Soros Foundations as 'Undesirable'

Russian officials add Soros groups to a list of foreign and international organizations banned from giving grants to Russian partners

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
With HIV, Can We Get to Zero?i
Carol Pearson
November 29, 2015 1:23 PM
The theme of this year's World AIDS Day is "Getting to Zero." The U.N. says new HIV infections have been reduced by 35 percent since 2000 and AIDS-related deaths are down by 42 percent since the peak in 2004. VOA's Carol Pearson takes a look at what it might take to actually have an AIDS-free generation.

Video With HIV, Can We Get to Zero?

The theme of this year's World AIDS Day is "Getting to Zero." The U.N. says new HIV infections have been reduced by 35 percent since 2000 and AIDS-related deaths are down by 42 percent since the peak in 2004. VOA's Carol Pearson takes a look at what it might take to actually have an AIDS-free generation.

Video Political Motives Seen Behind Cancelled Cambodian Water Festival

For the fourth time in the five years since more than 350 people were killed in a stampede at Cambodia’s annual water festival, authorities canceled the event this year. Officials blamed environmental reasons as the cause, but many see it as fallout from rising political tensions with a fresh wave of ruling party intimidation against the opposition. David Boyle and Kimlong Meng report from Phnom Penh.

Video African Circus Gives At-Risk Youth a 2nd Chance

Ethiopia hosted the first African Circus Arts Festival this past weekend with performers from seven different African countries. Most of the performers are youngsters coming form challenging backgrounds who say the circus gave them a second chance.

Video US Lawmakers Brace for End-of-Year Battles

U.S. lawmakers are returning to Washington for Congress’ final working weeks of the year. And, as VOA's Michael Bowman reports, a full slate of legislative business awaits them, from keeping the federal government open to resolving a battle with the White House over the admittance of Syrian refugees.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video After Terrorist Attacks, Support for Refugees Fades

The terrorists who killed and injured almost 500 people around Paris this month are mostly French or Belgian nationals. But at least two apparently took advantage of Europe’s migrant crisis to sneak into the region. The discovery has hardened views about legitimate refugees, including those fleeing the same extremist violence that hit the French capital. Lisa Bryant has this report for VOA from the Paris suburb of Cergy-Pontoise

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video Thais Send Security Concerns Down the River

As Thailand takes in the annual Loy Krathong festival, many ponder the country’s future and security. Steve Sandford reports from Chiang Mai.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continues

One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

VOA Blogs