Thursday, March 3, 2011

Bolden Defends Commercial Spaceflight

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden testifies March 2 before the House Science Committee. Photo source:

MSNBC reports on NASA Administrator Charles Bolden's appearance Wednesday before the House Science Committee.

The debate, heated at times, came down to how much money NASA will spend encouraging the development of commercial spacecraft compared to the funding allocated to building NASA's own next-generation space vehicle. President Barack Obama has proposed an $18.7 billion budget for NASA in 2012, one that would keep it locked at 2010 levels.

Last year, Congress passed – and Obama signed into law – a bipartisan NASA authorization bill. While that act did include funding for privately developed spaceships to take over the job of transporting astronauts to low-Earth orbit and the International Space Station, it also instructed NASA to start building a heavy-lift rocket for future spaceships as a backup.

The article cites concerns by certain members that commercial vehicles might be less safe than one built by NASA (although no one seems to have mentioned the fourteen lives lost on Shuttle). Bolden's reply:

Bolden disagreed that private spacecraft are any less safe than NASA's, which have traditionally always been built, and operated, through commercial contractors anyway. The new model, he said, was mainly a different acquisition format.

The Washington Times quoted Bolden as saying:

"We have got to develop commercial capability to get into low-Earth orbit," he said. "The nation needs to become unafraid of exploration. We need to become unafraid of risks."

Space Politics posted a March 1 letter signed by over fifty space leaders urging support of commercial spaceflight. Among the signatories are former astronauts Loren Acton, Jeffery Ashby, Ken Bowersox, Jay Buckey, Robert Cenker, Owen Garriott, Richard Garriott, Jeffrey Hoffman, Millie Hughes-Fulford, George Nelson, Rusty Schweickart, Richard Searfoss, Brewster Shaw, Kathryn Thornton, and Jim Voss.

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