A question of priorities

NASA administrator Charles Bolden made his first visit to Capitol Hill Wednesday to defend the FY2012 budget request, encountering criticism of the proposal from some members of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee. Members such as committee chairman Rep. Ralph Hall (R-TX) criticized a budget proposal that did not align with the authorization act, with more funding than expected for commercial crew development but less for other human spaceflight accounts, in particular the new heavy-lift launcher and crew capsule. From the committee's press release about the hearing: Chairman Hall has long supported the development of commercial capabilities as a worthy goal, but not at the expense of ensuring a safe reliable system to get American astronauts into space. Discussing the NASA Authorization Act, Hall said, "Commercial crew was not ignored, but to be perfectly clear, it was not – and is not – Congress' first priority. Yet the Administration's FY2012 budget proposal completely flips the priorities of the Act, significantly increasing Commercial Crew funding while making deep cuts to the Human Exploration Capabilities accounts which Congress clearly intended to serve as our assured access to space." The committee's ranking member, Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), was also critical of elements of the budget request: "I had thought that the Administration agreed with the compromise that was enacted into law, but I am afraid that I do not see it reflected in the proposed NASA budget request. The request cuts NASA's overall budget plan and its human exploration budget even further than before, delays the development of the next generation vehicles, and eliminates any concrete destinations or milestones beyond the International Space Station." Bolden defended the emphasis on commercial crew in the budget request. "I am certain that commercial entities can deliver," he said, as reported by AFP, adding that we must "become unafraid of risks." In her release, Rep. Johnson said that "the most constructive approach for all of us here is to consider the budget request that you will present today as the beginning of the discussion, not the end." But then, a budget request is rarely accepted without debate.

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