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

UN: 1 Million Somalis at Risk of Hunger

Group warns region is in dire need of humanitarian aid, with at least 200,000 children under age of five acutely malnourished as drought hits southern, central part of nation More

Human Rights Groups Allege Supression of Freedoms in Thailand

Thailand’s military, police have suppressed release of independent report assessing human rights in kingdom during first 100 days of latest coup More

Jennifer Lawrence Contacts FBI After Nude Photos Hacked

'Silver Linings Playbook' actress' photos were posted on image-sharing forum 4chan; Federal Bureau of Investigations is looking into matter 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 Schools Resume Classes, Donate to Government Forcesi
X
September 02, 2014 12:58 PM
A new school year has started in Ukraine but thousands of children in the war-torn east are unable to attend because of ongoing clashes with pro-Russia rebels. In Ukraine's capital, patriotic education has become the norm along with donations to support injured security forces fighting to take back rebel-held areas. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video Ukraine Schools Resume Classes, Donate to Government Forces

A new school year has started in Ukraine but thousands of children in the war-torn east are unable to attend because of ongoing clashes with pro-Russia rebels. In Ukraine's capital, patriotic education has become the norm along with donations to support injured security forces fighting to take back rebel-held areas. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video US Detainees Want Negotiators for Freedom in North Korea

The three U.S. detainees held in North Korea were permitted to speak with foreign media Monday. The government of Kim Jong Un restricted the topics of the questions, and the interviews in Pyongyang were limited to five minutes. Each of the men asked Washington to send a representative to Pyongyang to secure his release. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti has our story.
Video

Video Internet, Technology Offer New Tools for Journalists

The Internet and rapidly evolving technology is quickly changing how people receive news and how journalists deliver it. There are now more ways to tell a story than ever before. One school in Los Angeles is teaching the next generation of journalists with the help of a state-of-the-art newsroom. Elizabeth Lee has this report.
Video

Video Turkmen From Amerli Describe Survival of IS Siege

Over the past few weeks, hundreds of Shi'ite Turkmen have fled the town of Amerli seeking refuge in the northern city of Kirkuk. Despite recent military gains after U.S. airstrikes that were coordinated with Iraqi and Kurdish forces, the situation remains dire for Amerli’s residents. Sebastian Meyer went to Kirkuk for VOA to speak to those who managed to escape.
Video

Video West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015

A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video Survivors Commemorate 70th Anniversary of Nazi Liquidation of Jewish Ghetto

When the German Nazi army occupied the Polish city of Lodz in 1939, it marked the beginning of a long nightmare for the Jewish community that once made up one third of the population. Roughly 200,000 people were forced into the Lodz Ghetto. Less than 7,000 survived. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, some survivors gathered at the Union League Club in Chicago on the 70th anniversary of the liquidation of the Lodz Ghetto to remember those who suffered at the hands of the Nazi regime.
Video

Video Cost to Raise Child in US Continues to Rise

The cost of raising a child in the United States continues to rise. In its latest annual report, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says middle income families with a child born in 2013 can expect to spend more than $240,000 before that child turns 18. And sending that child to college more than doubles that amount. VOA’s Deborah Block visited with a couple with one child in Alexandria, Virginia, to learn if the report reflects their lifestyle.
Video

Video Chaotic Afghan Vote Recount Threatens Nation’s Future

Afghanistan’s troubled presidential election continues to be rocked by turmoil as an audit of the ballots drags on. The U.N. says the recount will not be completed before September 10. Observers say repeated disputes and delays are threatening the orderly transfer of power and could have dangerous consequences. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel reports.

AppleAndroid