Friday, December 14, 2012

The More They Stay the Same

Click the arrow to watch the September 16, 2009 hearing on the findings by the Review of U.S. Human Space Flight Plans Committee.

Click the arrow to watch the December 12, 2012 hearing on the Future of NASA.

Earlier this week, the House Science Committee held a hearing to review a National Academies report on the future of NASA. The report, titled NASA's Strategic Direction and the Need for a National Consensus, was issued on December 5.

If you watch the hearing video above, it's eerily similar to the presentation made in September 2009 by Norm Augustine, chair of the Review of U.S. Human Space Flight Plans Committee. The report, titled Seeking a Human Spaceflight Program Worthy of a Great Nation, was submitted to Congress in October 2009. Augustine's appearance before the Senate Space Subcomittee on September 16, 2009 is also above.

Both documents warned that NASA was tasked by Congress to perform too many tasks that were underfunded.

But if you watch both hearings, the members present shifted responsibility and blame to the White House to solve the problem.

It's just more evidence that Congress has no interest in a robust space program beyond protecting jobs and contractors in the states and districts they represent.

Perhaps the most bizarre moment in Wednesday's hearing was Rep. Hansen Clarke pandering for NASA jobs to be sent to Detroit. It wasn't the first time, but it's probably the last as he was defeated in the Democratic primary this year and will leave Congress at the end of this session.

The Space Launch System is a classic example of Congress ignoring funding realities.

Derided by some as the Senate Launch System because it originated with the Senate's space subcommittee in 2010, Congress mandated that NASA use existing Space Shuttle and Constellation contractors to build SLS.

An independent analysis released in August 2011 found that SLS would cost much more than Congress was authorizing for future years' budgets.

Congress didn't care.

According to an August 19, 2011 article on the Aviation Week web site, the Senators behind SLS — primarily Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) — reacted angrily to the review and told NASA to find a way to build SLS on time within the inadequate amount they'd allocated.

“I talked to [Administrator] Charlie Bolden yesterday and told him he has to follow the law, which requires a new rocket by 2016,” says Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.). “And . . . within the budget the law requires . . .”

“NASA must use its decades of space know-how and billions of dollars in previous investments to come up with a concept that works,” the senators say in a joint bipartisan statement. “We believe it can be done affordably and efficiently — and, it must be a priority.”

That would be the same Senator Nelson chairing the September 2009 hearing with Mr. Augustine. He listened but, apparently, he did not hear.

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