When Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) returned to the helm of the House Appropriations commerce, justice, science subcommittee in January after four years of serving in the minority, he wasted no time putting his stamp on NASA.
Wolf, a vocal China hawk who roundly criticized NASA Administrator Charles Bolden for visiting the People’s Republic last fall, exercised his clout as chairman to put the kibosh on a reciprocal visit. At Wolf’s insistence, the U.S. spending bill Congress passed in April to avert a government shutdown included a provision banning NASA and the White House Office of Space and Technology Policy from working with China.
Wolf also added his voice to the chorus of lawmakers accusing NASA of short-changing the Space Launch System and Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle — the respective heavy-lift rocket and deep space capsule that Congress has directed NASA to build to serve as the successor to the now-retired U.S. space shuttle fleet.
In July, Wolf moved through committee a spending bill that would roll NASA’s budget back to pre-2008 levels, kill the James Webb Space Telescope and scale back the agency’s effort to nurture development of commercially operated astronaut transportation systems. The bill would put more money into the heavy-lift rocket and the deep space capsule.
There’s a long way to go before NASA’s 2012 budget becomes law, but as chairman of the appropriations panel that oversees the U.S. space agency, Wolf will undoubtedly have a big say on how it all pans out.