Hutchison Ratchets Up Pressure on Bolden on HLV Program

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas), Ranking Member on the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, today called for immediate action by the Administration and the Office of Management and Budget on approval of NASA’s heavy lift vehicle. The Senator’s statement follows:

“Next week, the Space Shuttle Atlantis and her crew will return to earth, bringing an end to the final mission of the space shuttle program and an end to America’s ability to launch humans into space.

“Last year, Congress passed, and the President signed, the 2010 NASA Authorization Act, which directed NASA to develop a new heavy lift launch capability to take astronauts out beyond Earth’s orbit in a new multi-purpose crew vehicle.

“NASA has spent the past eight months re-studying options and variations of launch vehicles that have been looked at for years. They finally announced the plan to develop the crew vehicle, using the Orion design, in May. We now have it confirmed that a final technical design decision on the heavy lift vehicle was made three weeks ago, on June 20th. Although the studies leading to that design decision included independent cost estimates, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has deferred endorsing that technical decision until it can see another independent cost analysis for the project.

“No one questions the need to ensure the best understanding of program costs. We do that every year on an ongoing basis with every major NASA program, as we set spending levels in our annual budget. There is simply no need to defer announcing the vehicle design decision while awaiting yet another cost review.

“To do so only increases the real human cost that NASA employees and contractors are experiencing in the face of continued uncertainty about the future. Without a decision we will continue to lose skilled workers that we need to build the shuttle replacements. Besides the toll this will take on workers and their families, who have contributed so much to science, our national security, and the economy, it will be difficult and more costly to replace this invaluable human capital.

“We have the information to make a decision now, and I call on the Administration and OMB to immediately make public and approve NASA’s technical design decision on the heavy lift vehicle.”

Editor’s Note: Hutchison’s blast comes a day after NASA Administrator Charles Bolden was raked over the coals over the delays by the House Science Committee. NASA’s efforts to design a rocket it could actually afford to build and operate within the budget constraints and timeline that Congress has stipulated is clearly not winning over many friends on Capitol Hill.

It’s ironic, given the current emphasis on fiscal restraint, that Congress is not more receptive to NASA’s truth-in-budgeting approach. It would have been far easier, as so many administrators have done in the past, for Bolden to have submitted a plan months ago and assured Congress that the program could be done on time and on budget, regardless of whether it was true or not.  But, then again, that’s what got NASA in the mess with Constellation.