Hutchison Criticizes House Budget Plan for NASA

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WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) took issue with a recent move by House appropriators to cut nearly $700 million from NASA’s proposed 2010 budget for future manned exploration systems, including the planned space shuttle replacement.

Speaking with reporters June 10, Hutchison, a member of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee with NASA oversight, said the move by her House counterparts, billed as a pause while an independent panel reviews the agency’s future human spaceflight strategy, is “destructive” and threatens jobs.

In marking up NASA’s funding bill June 4, the House Appropriations commerce, justice and science subcommittee took aim at NASA’s nearly $4 billion request for exploration systems, which in addition to the shuttle replacement covers hardware the agency needs to return astronauts to the Moon by 2020. Rep. Alan Mollohan (D-W.Va.), the subcommittee’s chairman, said the 16 percent cut is not prejudicial, but a “pause” while lawmakers await the results of the blue-ribbon panel charged with studying the future of U.S. manned missions. Led by former Lockheed Martin chief Norman Augustine, the 10-member panel is expected to complete its work mid-August and provide the administration with a range of options for developing a safe and affordable human spaceflight program following the retirement of the shuttle fleet in 2010.

Hutchison said that while the review is worthwhile, she described its timetable as “pretty short.”

“My hope is not to have any kind of pause,” Hutchison said. “If [the Augustine] report comes in August and we have it for September, then it wouldn’t be an issue, but we don’t want any pause in work.”

Hutchison held the press conference after meeting with retired U.S. Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Charles Bolden to discuss his recent nomination by President Barack Obama to become NASA administrator.

Hutchison said she was pleased to support Bolden’s confirmation. “He knows NASA and he knows what can be done,” she said.

During the meeting, which included Lori Garver, Obama’s pick for the No. 2 job at NASA, Hutchison also discussed her concern with bridging the “gap” in U.S. manned spaceflight capability after NASA retires its space shuttle program. The currently planned shuttle replacement system, the Orion capsule and its Ares 1 launcher, is slated to debut in 2015.

Hutchison said extending the life of the shuttle beyond 2010 would delay the follow-on system, and added that such a delay is “not a good idea.” However, “we do need to look for options,” she said.