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Bolden defends decision to cancel Constellation program

Posted: March 24, 2010

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Speaking to a House appropriations subcommittee Tuesday, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden stood by the Obama administration's decision to cancel the Constellation program.

Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., questioned Bolden on whether NASA will develop a backup plan to meet the demands of critics on Capitol Hill. Wolf and 14 other members of Congress sent a bipartisan letter to Bolden two weeks ago calling for NASA to evaluate ways to continue developing exploration spacecraft and launch vehicle technology under the White House budget request.

"Are you going to look at this thing again and compromise, or is this just the way it is?" Wolf asked Bolden Tuesday.

"I think in your letter, if I remember, you asked if I [was] looking to develop a Plan B," Bolden siad. There is no alternative plan. There is no alternative budget. I stick by the budget that I helped the president develop. If the question is am I developing a Plan B, there is no Plan B."

Wolf is the ranking Republican on the House appropriations subcommittee responsible for drafting NASA's budget.

"What if it's rejected by the Congress?" Wolf asked.

"It is my intent to work diligently to find a solution to the differences that we have on the different parts of the budget," Bolden responded.

The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday that NASA is "scrambling" to come up with a new plan to satisfy vocal critics in Congress, but Bolden vigorously defended the strategy outlined in the agency's budget proposal released Feb. 1.

"I wish I could say it was a singular problem of funding [affecting Constellation]," Bolden said. "Funding was the principal driver in causing the Constellation program to be unsustainable. But the Constellation program had degraded to a lunar program without a lander. Those decisions, while they had to be made because of insufficient funding, put us in a situation where we almost could not recover."

Congressman Dutch Ruppersberger, D-Md., criticized the White House decision to focus on procuring commercial operators for future human space transportation.

"Commercial will not get us to the moon," Ruppersberger said. "Commercial will not get us to Mars."

Ruppersberger and Rep. Peter Visclosky, D-Ind., specifically asked Bolden about designing a new heavy-lift rocket able to carry the largest NASA, military and commercial payloads to space.

"This is not adequate funding for a heavy-lift vehicle development program and will require a top-line increase in NASA's budget," Ruppersberger said.

President Obama's budget request calls for $3.1 billion to be spent in the next five years for heavy-lift propulsion research and development.

"In the next five years, are we going to build, test, or fly anything? With these funds, it looks like we're only going to study. We've done a lot of study and research, but there comes a time when we have to make a move," Ruppersberger said.

"It is my hope that we will build, test and fly things in this coming period," Bolden replied.

NASA's goal is to design a new hydrocarbon first stage rocket engine ready for operational flights by 2020.

Bolden said he participated in a video teleconference with leaders of military space programs last week.

"The issues that we discussed included the need for a broad national launch system that will put us back where we need to be," Bolden said. "We are too reliant, right now, on old systems."