News / USA

NASA's Chief Defends Commercial Spaceflight Agreements

NASA Unveils Next-Generation RocketNASA Unveils Next-Generation Rocket
x
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.    

Priorities

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.  

Sequestration   

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

Anti-Terror Drills Highlight China’s Push Into Central Asia

China, Russia, several central Asian countries wrap up massive anti terrorism military drills in Inner Mongolia More

Erdogan’s First Step: Secure More Power in New Role in Turkey

Erdogan was sworn in as Turkey's first popularly elected president on Thursday; he picked former foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu as PM More

Pakistan Army Fails to Break Political Deadlock

PM Sharif claims he didn't ask army to defuse crisis; military rejects claim More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Ukraine Battles Pro-Russia Rebel Assaulti
X
Daniel Schearf
August 29, 2014 9:30 PM
After NATO concluded an emergency meeting to discuss the crisis in eastern Ukraine, the country is struggling to contain heavy fighting near the strategic port of Mariupol, on the Azov Sea. Separatist rebels are trying to capture the city, allegedly with Russian military help, and Ukraine's defense forces are digging in. VOA's Daniel Schearf spoke with analysts about what lies ahead for Ukraine.
Video

Video Ukraine Battles Pro-Russia Rebel Assault

After NATO concluded an emergency meeting to discuss the crisis in eastern Ukraine, the country is struggling to contain heavy fighting near the strategic port of Mariupol, on the Azov Sea. Separatist rebels are trying to capture the city, allegedly with Russian military help, and Ukraine's defense forces are digging in. VOA's Daniel Schearf spoke with analysts about what lies ahead for Ukraine.
Video

Video Growing Business Offers Paint with a Twist of Wine

Two New Orleans area women started a small business seven years ago with one thing in mind: to help their neighbors relieve the stress of coping with a hurricane's aftermath. Today their business, which pairs painting and a little bit of wine, has become one of the fastest growing franchises across the U.S. VOA’s June Soh met the entrepreneurs at their newest franchise location in the Washington suburbs.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Trials To Begin Next Week

The National Institutes of Health says it is launching early stage trials of a vaccine to prevent the Ebola virus, which has infected or killed thousands of people across West Africa. The World Health Organization says Ebola could infect more than 20,000 people across the region by the time the outbreak is over. The epidemic has health experts and governments scrambling to prevent more people from becoming infected. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Asian Bacteria Threatens Florida Orange Trees

Florida's citrus fruit industry is facing a serious threat from a bacteria carried by the Asian insect called psyllid. The widespread infestation again highlights the danger of transferring non-native species to American soil. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Aging Will Reduce Economic Growth Worldwide in Coming Decades

The world is getting older, fast. And as more people retire each year, fewer working-age people will be there to replace them. Bond rating agency Moody’s says that will lead to a decline in household savings; reducing global investments - which in turn, will lead to slower economic growth around the world. But experts say it’s not too late to mitigate the economic impact of the world’s aging populations. Mil Arcega has more.
Video

Video Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?

U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to Iraq to fight militants of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, despite officials in Washington describing the extremist group as the biggest threat the United States has faced in years. Henry Ridgwell reports from London on the growing uncertainty over whether the West’s response to ISIS will be enough to defeat the terrorist threat.
Video

Video Coalition to Fight Islamic State Could Reward Assad

The United States along with European and Mideast allies are considering a broader assault against Islamic State fighters who have spread from Syria into Iraq and risk further destabilizing an already troubled region. But as VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, confronting those militants could end up helping the embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Video

Video Made in America Socks Get Toehold in Online Fashion Market

Three young entrepreneurs are hoping to revolutionize the high-end sock industry by introducing all-American creations of their own. And they’re doing most of it the old-fashioned way. VOA’s Julie Taboh recently caught up with them to learn what goes into making their one-of-a-kind socks.
Video

Video Americans, Ex-Pats Send Relief Supplies to West Africa

Health organizations from around the world are sending supplies and specialists to the West African countries that are dealing with the worst Ebola outbreak in history. On a smaller scale, ordinary Americans and African expatriates living in the United States are doing the same. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
Video

Video America's Most Popular Artworks Displayed in Public Places

Public places in cities across America were turned into open-air art galleries in August. Pictures of the nation’s most popular artworks were displayed on billboards, bus shelters, subway platforms and more. The idea behind “Art Everywhere,” a collaborative campaign by five major museums is to allow more people to enjoy art and learn about the country’s culture and history. Faiza Elmasry has more.
Video

Video Chinese Doctors Use 3-D Spinal Implant

A Chinese boy suffering from a debilitating bone disease has become the first patient with a part of his spine created in a three-dimensional printer. Doctors say he will soon regain normal mobility. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video India’s Leprosy Battle Stymied by Continuing Stigma

Medical advancements in the treatment of leprosy have greatly diminished its impact around the world, largely eliminating the disease from most countries. India made great strides in combating leprosy, but still accounts for a majority of the world’s new cases each year, and the number of newly infected Indians is rising - more than 130,000 recorded last year. Doctors there say the problem has more to do with society than science. Shaikh Azizur Rahman reports from Kolkata.

AppleAndroid