Senate Committee Outlines Future For NASA

A Senate subcommittee has passed a bill that allows NASA to do a lot of the things it was planning on before the Obama administration put them to a halt earlier this year. Plans to go to the moon are still out, but as Bill Stamps reports, a lot of the equipment needed to get there could still be built.
When President Obama announced America would no longer be headed to the Moon, many people weren't sure in what direction NASA was headed. The Bush administration had already ordered the end of the space shuttle, and a trip to Mars was still at least fifteen years away. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison was one of those concerned.

"I have no doubt that the president wants to have humans in space and keep American preeminence, but I was very concerned that we were taking away NASA's role and the importance of NASA oversight and the incredible workforce that NASA has had over the years that has produced the creativity and the success that we have had in space exploration."

So members of a Senate subcommittee came up with their own plan. While a trip to the Moon is still out, they do plan to build the rocket and space craft that would have gotten us there. And NASA will be in charge issuing the contracts.

"Now we have the commitment for a heavy launch vehicle that will take humans into both low-earth orbit, and then the next step, which I agree with President Obama should be our goal. We should go to Mars. We should know what is beyond low-earth orbit that we can use to harness energy for use in our country."

The Senate's bill has support from both Republicans and Democrats. The plan doesn't waste any time; it calls for the yet-to-be-designed space rocket to be ready in six years — much earlier than before. Democratic Senator Bill Nelson of Florida says it can be done.

"Utilizing shuttle-derived technology. Building on that, making it evolvable. Not building the largest rocket around but starting in the range of 75-100 metric tons. That is evolvable."

Bob Mitchell is president of Houston's Bay Area Economic Partnership. He says the plan could reduce the number of jobs lost locally from 7,000 to 700. He also agrees that just about everything the Obama administration deleted in its outline for NASA has now been restored.

"It's pretty much the same thing that we were doing in the Constellation Program without the lunar lander. So if you look at it and take away the names of the architecture, we're almost back where we were in early February."

One other major change: the Senate bill gives the green light and the money for NASA to fly one extra shuttle flight later next year. When the next two shuttles fly this winter, a backup shuttle will be waiting to go in case there's a problem. Since it's all set to go, the senators say we might as well use it. Bill Stamps, KUHF News.