U.S. Senator Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), ranking member of the Commerce, Justice, Science (CJS) and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee, today issued a statement sharply criticizing the Obama Administration’s proposed NASA budget for fiscal year 2011. NASA’s budget is under the jurisdiction of the CJS Subcommittee. Constellation is NASA’s current human space flight program. A critical component of Constellation, the Ares I rocket, completed a successful test flight in October of 2009. Disregarding Constellation’s progress, the Obama Administration’s proposed fiscal year 2011 budget for NASA, released today, would cancel the program and instead fund “commercial” providers who have failed to fulfill current contracts with NASA to deliver even cargo to the International Space Station.

Despite an attempt to drastically cut funding for Constellation in the House version of the fiscal year 2010 omnibus appropriations bill, Shelby was successful in restoring $600 million to the program, funded at $3.46 billion total. Shelby was also instrumental in including language that limits NASA’s ability to terminate or alter the current Constellation program. This requires the Administration to work with Congress and wait for approval prior to changing any current human exploration plans.

The President’s annual budget request is a proposal. Congress determines final funding levels for departments, agencies, and programs. Shelby’s statement on the Obama Administration’s fiscal year 2011 NASA budget proposal is as follows:

“The President’s proposed NASA budget begins the death march for the future of US human space flight. The cancelation of the Constellation program and the end of human space flight does represent change – but it is certainly not the change I believe in. Congress cannot and will not sit back and watch the reckless abandonment of sound principles, a proven track record, a steady path to success, and the destruction of our human space flight program.

“Constellation is the only path forward that maintains America’s leadership in space. The successful test launch of the Ares I rocket in October represented years of work and great advancement in our Nation’s human space flight program. To discard Ares I as the foundation of space exploration without demonstrated capability or proven superiority of an alternative vehicle, is irresponsible and not cost-effective. There is no other rocket today that is as safe, or that has successfully demonstrated it can meet the country’s needs for the exploration of space.

“We cannot continue to coddle the dreams of rocket hobbyists and so-called ‘commercial’ providers who claim the future of US human space flight can be achieved faster and cheaper than Constellation. I have consistently stated the fallacy of believing the cure-all hype of these ‘commercial’ space companies, and my position has been supported time and again by both the experts and the facts. Those who believe that it is in our nation’s best interest to rely on ‘commercial’ space companies need only examine their current track record. Of the companies enlisted to deliver only cargo to space, not humans, one company failed to move beyond paper drawings, another is years behind schedule, and a replacement company for the first failure will not even be ready for test flights for years to come.

“As a resounding rebuke to the Augustine Commission Report, the Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel, whose sole focus is on ensuring lives are not needlessly lost in our space program, stated in their 2009 report, that no commercial manufacturer ‘is currently human-rating requirements qualified, despite some claims and beliefs to the contrary.’ This is after their 2008 report, written in part by the current NASA Administrator, declared that commercial vehicles ‘are not proven to be appropriate to transport NASA personnel.’ NASA’s safety experts agree that current commercial vehicles are untested and unworthy of carrying our most valuable assets – our nation’s astronauts.

“It is unfortunate that on the anniversary of the loss of the Columbia crew this Administration is choosing to abandon our nation’s only chance at remaining the leader in human space flight. It is ironic that Constellation, a program borne out of the recommendations of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board, would be eliminated in lieu of rockets repeatedly deemed unsafe for astronauts by NASA’s own Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel.

“Rocket science is not simple and it is not easy. Newcomers to this arena are continuing to learn this lesson as they struggle with repeated delays in getting their operations off the ground. It makes little sense for NASA to establish yet another social welfare program for these ‘commercial’ companies. It is simply not ‘commercial’ when the development work for your company is funded by the Government. That may be the General Motors model, but it should certainly not be considered the commercial model.

“On Friday, India announced they will be ready for their first manned space flight by 2016. With this administration’s nonsensical NASA budget request, the US will still be working on launching people on rockets that do not exist while Russia, China, and India are actually doing it. If this budget is enacted, NASA will no longer be an agency of innovation and hard science; it will be the agency of pipe dreams and fairy tales.

“I will never support a NASA budget that does not have a robust human space exploration program grounded in reality. New commercial space companies do have a chance at being successful, but that time is still too far in the future. Now is not the time to turn human space flight over to inexperience and hopeful aspirations. Instead, it is the time to cement our leadership in space with a program we know will keep America at the forefront of space exploration. Constellation as envisioned successfully delivers that objective.”