Oct 08 2009

'We cannot cede leadership in space'

Huntsville Times

By Budd McLaughlin

Shelby criticizes Augustine panel's Ares I suggestion

Declaring that Russia, China and India "will be waving to us as they fly by the space station on their way to the moon and other planets," U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby criticized the Augustine Commission on the floor of the Senate Monday.

Shelby's remarks came during his speech on the Commerce, Justice and Science Appropriations bill, which the full Senate is considering. The bill recommends the White House's budget request of $18.7 billion for NASA.

The Tuscaloosa Republican commended the 10-member presidential panel for its hard work but said he found many of the panel's recommendations "unsatisfactory and disappointing."

The commission, headed by retired Lockheed Martin CEO Norm Augustine, released its summary report last month and its final report is expected by the end of the year.

The suggestions strongly recommended extending the life of the International Space Station until 2020, retiring the shuttle next year after it has completed the next six missions and setting Mars as the ultimate goal for exploration.

The summary report also said the space agency needed $3 billion more per year and, if NASA still wants to go to the moon, it should abandon the Marshall Space Flight Center-managed Ares I crew launch rocket. The Ares I and Ares V, a heavy lift cargo rocket, are part of the Constellation program, which would replace the shuttle program and take astronauts to the space station and, using an Ares V, to the moon.

Shelby sharply disagreed with shutting down Ares I.

"This program is built on a foundation of proven technologies, using existing capabilities and infrastructure," Shelby said. "The Ares I team will soon launch the first test flight and the groundwork for the Ares V heavy lift vehicle is well under way."

The panel suggested NASA should look to an improved space shuttle rocket, commercial launch vehicles or use the larger Ares V for future missions. And some officials with the Obama administration have pushed using private and international support for programs.

Shelby said it's beneficial for NASA to consider private industry's help supporting the space station and exploration, but he said it must be done realistically with a program that has the "greatest likelihood of success."

"I will not support any future NASA budget request that does not have a robust human exploration program," he said. "The benefits our society has gained from the human space flight program are immeasurable. Almost every facet of our lives today has been touched by discoveries with human space flight.

"We cannot cede our leadership in space and we must have a viable human space exploration program."

The senator also said the U.S. must remain the standard-bearer when it comes to space exploration.

"If we no longer prioritize space exploration, we can be certain that others will," he said. "Beyond the direct, tangible benefits, there is also the intangible benefit that comes with knowing that America is leading the world in discovering and exploring new frontiers.

"As we are losing global market shares in most industries, we are still the world leader in human space flight. I will not support a NASA that squanders that lead."