Today, the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology’s Subcommittee on Space held a hearing titled, “Deep Space Exploration: Examining the Impact of the President’s Budget.” The purpose of the hearing was to examine the Administration’s management of the Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion crew vehicle development programs. The hearing also evaluated NASA’s plans for future major tests and milestones and how the budget requested by the Administration for these programs affects development schedules and milestones. Testifying before the Subcommittee were: Mr. Doug Cooke, Owner of Cooke Concepts and Solutions and Former Associate Administrator, Exploration Systems, NASA; and Mr. Dan Dumbacher, Professor of Engineering Practice at Purdue University and Former Deputy Associate Administrator, Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate, NASA. Democratic Members of the Subcommittee expressed concern that the Majority did not invite a representative from NASA.

Ranking Member of the Space Subcommittee, Donna F. Edwards (D-MD) said, “Last December, millions of people in America and around the world tasted the future when NASA conducted the Exploration Flight Test—EFT-1— in which the Orion crew vehicle traveled farther into space than any human spaceflight vehicle since the Apollo era. That future is an exciting one that includes sending humans to the surface of Mars.

“By any measure, the progress on SLS and Orion is visible and tangible. NASA and its contractors deserve credit for the many accomplishments achieved to date. Tests of the SLS solid rocket booster and the RS-25 main engine are reviving and modernizing the propulsion activities that brought us through the successful Shuttle era. Elements of the Orion crew vehicle that will return American astronauts to deep space are being fabricated as I speak. And just a few weeks ago, the Orion program was approved to transition from formulation into development, a major milestone known as Key Decision Point C or KDP-C.”

Mr. Dumbacher said, “Given the budget instability and continuous policy debates, the NASA / Industry team is making great progress. The team is dedicated to building all systems as safely as possible, as soon as possible, and as cost efficiently as possible. The Space Launch System, its Orion capsule, and their support infrastructure together create the needed foundation for US expansion beyond Earth’s boundaries.
Each of the Programs is making significant progress, despite substantial fiscal obstacles. The team is diligently working to build this powerful launch vehicle, and its spacecraft, to reach Mars and eventually, go beyond.”

Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) said, “Getting to Mars will be very challenging. We all know that. And we know that it will take adequate funding if we are to get there efficiently and safely. I have made no secret of my willingness to invest more in NASA—in its human exploration, aeronautics, science, and technology programs. Because it is an investment—not just spending—an investment that will pay long-lasting dividends to this nation.

She continued, “But it’s not just a question of more money—it’s giving NASA some predictability as to when that money will actually show up. If this Congress is looking for reasons why NASA’s exploration program faces potential delays, we need look no further than ourselves. Too many times in recent years, NASA has had no idea when it would actually get an appropriation, whether that appropriation would be for more than a few months, or whether they might even have to suspend their work due to a government shutdown. That is no way for America’s premier R&D enterprise and its dedicated workforce to have to operate. If we are going to ask NASA and its contractors to carry out the extremely challenging job of getting America to Mars, this Congress is going to have do its job too.”

Mr. Cooke also discussed the challenges of dealing with budget uncertainty. He said, “The most challenging aspect of management and successful execution of these programs is the impact of constrained budgets and unplanned changes to operating budgets, whether real or contrived. The technical challenges are fun in comparison and engineers can solve them.”

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