Capitol Hill Reacts to SLS Delay

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WASHINGTON — In the wake of a review of the Space Launch System heavy-lift rocket that likely pushes its first launch into 2018, two key House members argued that NASA and the Obama administration were not adequately funding the program, while one of the agency’s biggest advocates in the Senate sought support for accelerating that schedule.

In a letter released Aug. 28 by the House Science Committee, Reps. Lamar Smith (R-Tex.) and Steven Palazzo (R-Miss.), the chairmen of the full House Science Committee and its space subcommittee, respectively, asked NASA Administrator Charles Bolden for additional details on potential delays for both SLS and the Orion crew spacecraft.

The letter does not explicitly mention the latest NASA review, but instead references a July report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office on potential SLS delays, as well as recent comments by Orion program manager Mark Geyer that he was “struggling” to make a December 2017 launch date.

“These findings are surprising to say the least considering the numerous claims of sufficient funding,” Smith and Palazzo write in the letter. “Despite numerous statements over several years that these two national priority programs are sufficiently funded, it now appears that this may not be the case.”

Smith and Palazzo ask Bolden several questions in the letter, including whether the first SLS/Orion mission will launch in 2017 and why the administration sought less funding for those programs in its 2015 budget request versus what Congress appropriated for fiscal year 2014. They are seeking responses from the agency by Sept. 10.

In a brief statement late Aug. 27, Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), chairman of the Senate Commerce space subcommittee, offered a more positive spin on the review. “Technically things look good,” he said. “But we need to keep the budget on track so NASA can meet an earlier readiness date — which I think can be done.”