Congressman Pete Olson

Representing the 22nd District of Texas

Olson Testifies Before House Budget Committee in Support of NASA's Constellation Program

March 3, 2010
Press Release

Rep. Pete Olson, the Ranking Member of the Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee, today provided the following testimony before the House Budget Committee supporting the principles of American leadership in human space flight:

“Congressman Boyd, thank you for the opportunity to testify before you today.  I appear before you to ask to continue funding for the Constellation program at NASA.  But make no mistake; I don’t come before you to support a program, or a budget item, but a principle.  Our nation has earned the right to be called the global leader in human space flight.  This distinction took several decades, billions of dollars – both public and private - technological breakthroughs, and yes, lives lost.  The Administration’s budget proposal doesn’t just put that hard-won leadership at risk, it abolishes it.  

“The Constellation program was the follow-on program to the soon to be retired space shuttle program.  On two separate occasions, Congress endorsed NASA’s path to return to the moon and beyond through development of the Constellation program in the 2005 and 2008 NASA Authorization Acts.  The overwhelming bipartisan support was not accompanied, however, with sufficient funds to close the gap between when the space shuttle was retired and the Constellation vehicles could come online.  

“There will be a gap between shuttle retirement and a replacement vehicle.  The best case scenario could have been three years, but is now more likely five.  In that time, we will rely solely on Russia to get our astronauts to the International Space Station, which the United States has paid the overwhelming share to build.   With the shuttle in existence, the Russians charge $50 million per seat.  You can imagine what the cost will be when they are the only taxi in town.

“Fully funding Constellation would have enabled us not only to bring a replacement vehicle online earlier, but also to begin exploring beyond low earth orbit.  The cost to cancel Constellation is estimated to be $2.5B.  
Recent reports indicate that number is at best an estimate, which many believe is too low.  Cutting this program is the single largest cut in the FY11 budget proposal.  But when the overall budget number increases while the signature human space flight program is cut, I question where the agency, and our nation, is setting its priorities. 

“The Administration also proposes a drastic new way for NASA to do business.  Instead of setting a destination and planning to go there, the agency will shift focus on developing technologies and determine destinations based on the outcomes of those investments and experiments. 

“This raises many questions, many of them budgetary.  These are questions, by the way, the agency itself has not yet answered itself.  We should be working to get these answers before alternatives are decided, especially as drastic as the cuts proposed. 

“NASA is establishing a fund, set at $650M for next year, increasing to $2.1B in FY15, for technology demonstration.  Without a clear understanding of what NASA will be developing, the possible outcomes for the agency are anybody’s guess.  NASA would risk devolving into an R&D agency or to appear to be hobby-shopping with federal resources in lieu of actually flying missions.  That reality, or even that perception, could then lead to increased pressure for funds to either be drastically cut, or worse, congressionally-directed.  Either of those outcomes does not enable us to achieve any type of worthwhile exploration strategy. 

“In conjunction with these developments and upon cancellation of Constellation, NASA proposes funding private commercial entities to ferry cargo, and eventually crew, to the International Space Station.  These entities, which the budget proposes subsidizing, will rely heavily on government investment and contracts, have not sufficiently proven the right to be our nation’s sole means to space, that their business models are sustainable, or that a market even exists outside of the government for their services. 

“Human space flight by definition involves taking risks, but calculated, researched, and responsible ones.  This committee must sit down with NASA to fully understand why investing billions to go somewhere, somehow, sometime is a wise use of taxpayer funds.  To me, the risks to our economy, to our industrial base, and to our leadership in the world, are simply not worth it.   

“Let us work not to shift funds to technology development programs and massive cancellation costs, but rather to putting Constellation on secure footing.  By doing so we would also be putting our human space flight program back on track for a bright future worthy of its storied past. 

“Thank you again for this opportunity, I yield back the balance of my time.”

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Contact: Melissa Kelly
202-225-5951