Human spaceflight: Lawmakers demand NASA documents

Human spaceflight: The House Science and Technology Committee has given NASA Administrator Charles Bolden until June 25 to deliver all records pertaining to the agency's 2011 budget proposal, which abandoned the Constellation program, whose goal was to send astronauts back to the Moon and possibly to Mars.

By , SPACE.COM Space News

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    Human spaceflight: A model of the Orion spacecraft currently under development by NASA is part of Project Constellation, located at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Cape Canaveral, Florida.
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Frustrated by a lack of visibility into the planning and analysis underpinning NASA's dramatic shift in course for its human spaceflight program, House lawmakers have given NASA Administrator Charles Bolden until June 25 to deliver all records, charts, e-mails, voice messages and other supporting materials used in drafting the agency's 2011 budget proposal.

Last week the House Science and Technology Committee gave NASA until June 16 to flesh out supporting analysis for the agency's controversial shift in course, which would abandon the Constellation program, a five-year-old effort to develop new rockets and spacecraft to replace the space shuttle and later, deliver astronauts to the Moon. The new plan entails backing a commercial crew taxi service to the international space station and developing enabling technologies for deep space exploration.

"Since NASA has failed to provide the Committee with any detailed supporting materials with which Congress can judge the proposed human spaceflight plan, Congress must insist upon the production of all materials NASA relied upon in formulating its proposal," the committee's chairman, Rep. Bart Gordon (D-Tenn.), wrote in the June 17 letter to Bolden. The letter was co-signed by Rep. Ralph Hall (R-Texas), the committee's ranking member, and by Reps. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) and Pete Olson (R-Texas), the chairwoman and ranking member, respectively, of the panel's space and aeronautics subcommittee.

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Specifically, the letter demands all records relating to the development of NASA's human spaceflight proposal that was unveiled along with the agency's $19 billion spending request for the budget year that begins Oct. 1, "including any analysis of the executability of the proposed plan through 2025." The letter also demands all records relating to the formulation of NASA's revised human spaceflight proposal announced by U.S. President Barack Obama April 15, which would retain a slimmed-down version of Constellation's Orion crew capsule to serve as an emergency crew lifeboat aboard the International Space Station.

In addition, the committee wants all NASA records relating to any budgetary analysis as well as estimates of the employment impact of canceling the Constellation program and implementing the new plan, "both for the agency and for the private sector," the letter said. The lawmakers requested that the materials be delivered to the committee's room in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill "no later than close of business on Friday June 25, 2010."

The committee asks that any relevant records that NASA chooses not to share be documented "item by item, with the express legal basis for the privilege claimed for each item clearly noted."

The letter notes that the committee, in its attempt to review NASA's plan, has "made repeated requests for detailed cost and programmatic information which was lacking in the [fiscal] 2011 budget request," and that House lawmakers have asked Bolden and his staff for these materials on at least four separate occasions.

"The failure of NASA to supply Congress with this information hampers our ability to address the future of NASA's human spaceflight program in a timely manner," the letter states. "Simultaneously, the agency is implementing dramatic changes to the Constellation program, which are resulting in the loss of thousands of skilled jobs and which will cause unavoidable delays in the development of Ares-I and Orion, should Congress decide not to terminate those programs."

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