Apr 22 2010

GOP senator warns NASA budget cuts will help China overtake U.S. in space

The Hill

By Tony Romm

Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) on Thursday gave a withering assessment of proposed budget cuts to NASA.

Shelby said the administation's proposals embody the definition of "insanity" during a congressional hearing on the budget, and said spending cuts would ensure the U.S. space program is overtaken by countries such as China and India.

"The president's plan only ensures the United States will be subservient to and reliant on other countries for our access to space," said Shelby, the ranking member on the Senate appropriations subcommittee that fielded debate on NASA dollars today.

"Future generations will learn how the Chinese, Russians and even the Indians took the reins of human space exploration away from the United States," he said.

The senator later invoked the words of Albert Einstein, noting the White House's new vision for NASA embodies the scientist's definition of "insanity," which he said meant, "doing the same things over and over and expecting a different result."

He described the proposal, in total, as a "welfare program for the commercial space industry" that subsidizes private contractors, which the senator said "cannot even carry the trash back from the space stations," much less humans.

Shelby then took aim at NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, whose approach Shelby said "only ensures members cannot trust you." He added that Bolden was "creating an atmosphere in which you and your leadership are becoming a major impediment for moving forward."

"No matter how many ... press releases and summits you conduct, hope is not a strategy," continued Shelby, whose state houses a key NASA base. "This budget is not a proposal for space exploration worthy of this great nation."

The president introduced his revised NASA budget at a summit at Kennedy Space Center last week to a mixed congressional reaction.

Most lawmakers agreed it was better than the White House's initial offering, which cut manned space flight funds more aggressively in favor of research programs, but a handful of Republicans in particular have since lashed out at the White House.

Shelby feels the 2011 budget proposal would keep the United States from ever reaching the moon again and Mars for the first time, as President George W. Bush first tasked NASA to do as part of his Constellation program.

The White House has fired back at those criticisms by stressing current technology would not permit those long-term missions anyway. They say their new budget would allow NASA to construct the vehicles and technologies needed to reach Mars, which Obama said last week was still the agency's ultimate goal.

But Shelby remains opposed to the plan. He stressed Thursday the White House's budget demonstrates "NASA's leadership team still does not understand the issues at hand."