Today, the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology’s Subcommittee on Space held a hearing titled, “An Overview of the Budget Proposal for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration for Fiscal Year 2017”. Testifying before the Subcommittee was the Honorable Charles F. Bolden, Jr., Administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

Ranking Member Donna F. Edwards (D-MD) said in her opening statement, “Our space program is a shining example of what we can accomplish as a nation when we harness the talents of our workforce and the capabilities of our industry, academia, and international partners…While this proposal is a good starting point for this morning’s discussion, I hope that we can at least get to the $19.3 billion level that Congress appropriated for NASA in Fiscal Year 2016.”

Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) agreed in her opening statement, “This $19 billion budget request is a strong endorsement by the President of the important role that NASA plays in advancing America’s R&D enterprise, and I appreciate his willingness to attach a high priority to NASA in this, his last Federal budget request. That is not to say that it is a perfect NASA budget request or that I agree with all elements of it. But it is a good starting point for Congress’s deliberations. Because that is what our focus should be today—what do we want NASA to accomplish and what are we willing to invest in NASA so that it can achieve those objectives.”
Democratic Members of the Subcommittee were pleased by a number of aspects of the budget request including: the proposal to revitalize our nation’s aeronautics research activities with an initiative to use “X-Planes” to demonstrate technologies leading to cleaner, quieter, and more efficient aircraft; the increases above the levels provided in the FY 2016 appropriations for the Safety, Security, and Mission Services account; sustainment of a robust Science program composed of research and data analysis grants and small, medium, and large missions, including development of high-priority missions such as the James Webb Space Telescope, the Wide-field Infrared Survey Telescope, the Europa Clipper, the Mars 2020 rover, and the Solar Probe Plus missions.

In response to Ranking Member Edwards’ question regarding how NASA’s Earth Science missions and research have benefited the American people, Administrator Bolden discussed how Earth Science research and data are used to help predict changes in water supplies, such as drought and flooding in order to help farmers with crop management and to assist with planning disaster relief.

Though generally supportive of the budget request, Democratic Members of the Subcommittee discussed a number of concerns, such as the need for funding stability for NASA; the proposed cuts in funding for the Space Launch System and the Orion spacecraft; the proposed reduction in spending on STEM education; potential risks of schedule pressure for Exploration-Mission 2; and the need for a roadmap for a manned mission to Mars.

Ranking Member Johnson spoke on potential risks of schedule pressure for Exploration-Mission 2. She said, “In its latest report, the Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel has raised concerns that perceived schedule pressure—whether external or self-imposed—can lead to excessive levels of risk being taken on in order to try to meet an arbitrary deadline. That’s not the path to a sustainable or a successful program.

“I hope that NASA management and workers will heed the ASAP’s concerns and not defer needed testing or make over-optimistic commitments in a shortsighted attempt to keep those programs alive in advance of a new Presidential administration taking power. To all those NASA and contractor employees I would simply say: Congress supports SLS and Orion and Commercial Crew, and we will continue to do so when a new President takes office. We know that what you do actually is rocket science, so take the time and the testing needed to do it right.”

Ranking Member Edwards said to Administrator Bolden regarding a manned mission to Mars, “While NASA has developed a Journey to Mars strategy that provides an initial outline of a pathway to Mars, we need a baseline roadmap and structure to support such a multidecadal endeavor…I know that you, I, and many of our colleagues here this morning want to get to Mars sooner rather than later. But we’ve got to establish an enduring system that will get us there and back safely, time and time again…We owe our next generation a vibrant space agency, in partnership with industry, academia, and international partners, to continue its historic mission and to pursue the goal of one day sending humans to the surface of Mars. The future is now. The choice is ours. It is up to us to ensure the future of our space program is a bright one.”

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