As budget debate continues, Bolden says space technology spending safe

Earlier this week the Senate rejected dueling FY11 spending bills, including both HR 1, which the House passed last month, as well as an alternative from Senate appropriators. Now it appears that the next step will be another short-term continuing resolution (CR), as the current CR expires next Friday. This CR would run for three weeks and include $6 billion in spending cuts, at least as proposed by House Republicans, who will release more details about their plans today. One ongoing concern regarding the budget deliberations has been the lack of funding for the agency's revamped space technology program. The FY11 budget proposal included over $570 million for space technology, but neither the recent House or Senate bills included any explicit funding for the program. The statement from Senate appropriators when they rolled out their budget plan last week noted, almost apologetically, that "NASA will not be provided any funds for requested but new long-range space technology research activities." However, NASA administrator Charles Bolden said yesterday that claims about the demise of the space technology program are unfounded. "Our understanding is that we have the flexibility to conduct, for the most part, the space technology initiatives we want to do as long as we can go in and communicate with our stakeholders in the Congress and help them understand why we're putting a priority on this," he said in response to a question after a speech about innovation at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington. That is based, he explained, on the fact that the language in the proposed full-year CRs gives NASA the flexibility to allocate funding within its various accounts, so long as it communicates those plans with Congress. "So the space technology was not zeroed out in the continuing resolution. They didn't plus it up and they didn't take anything off," Bolden said. "As long as we satisfied their concerns that we not waste the money, I have the flexibility to move the money around." Separately, Bolden said he was trying to convince Congress that it's not feasible for NASA to move ahead directly to a 130-metric-ton launch vehicle for the Space Launch System authorized by Congress. "We're not going to build a 130-metric-ton heavy-lift vehicle. We can't," he said. "We continue to negotiate and discuss with the Congress why that is not necessary." The 2010 authorization act requires the initial development of a vehicle capable of carrying 70 to 100 tons into LEO, with later enhancement to 130 tons. The Senate full-year CR, though, suggested that the heavy-lift vehicle "shall have a lift capability not less than 130 tons". Bolden also strongly endorsed plans for commercial crew development, stating that by doing so, "we not only create multiple means for accessing low Earth orbit, we also spark an engine for long-term job growth." He cited in particular two companies with first-round CCDev awards, Blue Origin and Sierra Nevada, as examples of the types of innovation he's seeking. "We have to embrace the innovators who may be able to do things more cheaply and effectively than we can," he said, referring to NASA. "New capabilities in commercial space for crew and cargo must, must succeed, and I have every confidence they will."

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