Bolden Says U.S. Risks Losing Leadership Role in Space

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WASHINGTON — NASA Administrator Charles Bolden told an audience of U.S. lawmakers and space industry representatives that if the United States abandons its position as the global leader in space, other countries will step in to fill the void.

“We should not fool ourselves. We should not pretend that if we decide we’re going to take a break from human spaceflight that nobody’s going to do that,” Bolden said. “That’s not going to happen … China, Russia — they’re the natural leaders and they will ascend to leadership.”

Speaking during an Oct. 8 Space Transportation Association breakfast on Capitol Hill, Bolden said he looks forward to reviewing the complete findings of a White House-appointed panel tasked in May with reassessing NASA’s plan to replace the space shuttle with two different rockets and a four-person crew capsule optimized for missions to the Moon.

The blue-ribbon panel, led by former Lockheed Martin chief Norm Augustine, released summary findings Sept. 8 warning that NASA’s human spaceflight program could remain confined to low Earth orbit for decades without more money and a change of plans. The Augustine committee’s full report is not anticipated before mid-October.

Bolden said he and senior NASA managers have devoted significant time and attention to the Augustine panel’s summary findings, though a final decision on the path forward ultimately lies with U.S. President Barack Obama.

“I would love to tell you where we’re going,” Bolden said. “That’s not my prerogative. That’s the president’s prerogative.”

Bolden said he will advise the president on the technical feasibility of the Augustine panel’s options, some of which propose scrapping the Constellation program’s Ares 1 launcher, developing a less-capable version of the  Ares 5 heavy-lift rocket, and relying on commercially operated vehicles to carry cargo and crew to the international space station.

“When I have an opportunity to sit down with [White House science adviser] Dr. John Holdren and other people, everybody’s going to give him the best advice we can give,” he said. “And it’s going to hopefully be grounded in fact. And technical detail, in my case. I’m the technical person, I’m supposed to give him technical information and tell him what’s feasible and what’s not.”