May 09, 2019

Hearing Recap: Keeping Our Sights on Mars

A Review of NASA’s Deep Space Plans and Lunar Proposal

Overview: On May 8, the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics held a hearing entitled "Keeping our Sights on Mars: A Review of NASA's Deep Space Plans".

Members in Attendance:

  • Full Committee Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX)
  • Full Committee Ranking Member Frank Lucas (R-OK)
  • Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee Chairwoman Kendra Horn (D-OK)
  • Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee Ranking Member Brian Babin (R-TX)
  • Rep. Pete Olson (R-TX)
  • Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO)
  • Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL)
  • Rep. Bill Posey (R-FL)
  • Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA)
  • Rep. Ami Bera (D-CA)
  • Rep. Randy Weber (R-TX)
  • Rep. Michael Waltz (R-FL)
  • Rep. Katie HIll (D-CA)


  • Mr. William H. Gerstenmaier, Associate Administrator, Human Exploration and Operations, National Aeronautics and Space Administration
  • Mr. Mark Sirangelo, Special Assistant to the Administrator, National Aeronautics and Space Administration
  • Dr. Jonathan Lunine, Director, Cornell Center for Astrophysics and Planetary Science, Co-Chair of the Former Committee on Human Spaceflight, National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine
  • Dr. Patricia Sanders, Chair, Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel
  • Mr. Walt Faulconer, President, Faulconer Consulting Group, LLC

Sample Q&A:

Subcommittee Chair Horn: NASA has promised Congress an amended budget to be delivered April 15, and then May 1. It still has not been delivered yet. What is the cause of this delay?

Mr. Gerstenmaier: This acceleration is a serious challenge with many components. We want to present Congress a complete and completely integrated plan and budget. We are taking our time to present as much detail as we can. It may be delayed for a week or two.

Mr. Sirangelo: We want to ensure we get this right.

Subcommittee Chair Horn: Who has final sign-off?

Mr. Sirangelo: The NASA Administrator and OMB.

Subcommittee Chair Horn: Will NASA be asking Congress for new authority for new types of contracting mechanisms?

Mr. Gerstenmaier: We may be seeking a variety of authorities depending on what part of the mission architecture.

Subcommittee Chair Horn: What is the status of NASA's space suits? Is NASA developing brand new suits?

Mr. Gerstenmaier: We will be developing new suits based on our existing suits.

Subcommittee Ranking Member Babin: Do all you on the panel agree that a real space program should provide commercial opportunities where appropriate, but also develop strategic capabilities that only the government can develop and use?

All panelists: Agree.

Subcommittee Ranking Member Babin: Should international partners be on the critical path?

Dr. Lunine: For Mars, yes.

Full Committee Chair Bernice-Johnson: What is the status of SLS and Orion?

Mr. Gerstenmaier: The program is looking good.

Mr. Sirangelo: This program will also result in new technologies as well as enable new kinds of science.

Mr. Faulconer: This acceleration will produce usable technologies and science.

Full Committee Ranking Member Lucas: What is the biggest challenge to this accelerated program?

Mr. Faulconer: Institutional resistance.

Full Committee Ranking Member Lucas: What has NASA learned from previous attempts to return Americans to the moon and going on to Mars that failed?

Mr. Gerstenmaier: Compared to those previous efforts, we already have hardware being built and tested right now. We are also building an architecture where there are no technological dead-ends.

Mr. Sirangelo: We also have a much more robust commercial space industry able to provide capabilities.

Rep. Brooks: What can you tell this committee about recent tests and concerns about the parachutes on Starliner and Dragon?

Dr. Sanders: The tests have provided insight which may result in some redesign.

Mr. Gerstenmaier: There was a failure with the Dragon. We are investigating what went wrong.

Rep. Brooks: How much more money will NASA need to accelerate the lunar program? Where will the money come from?

Mr. Gerstenmaier: I cannot at this time get into details while OMB is reviewing our proposal.

Rep. Beyer: I assume we will keep working with our international partners? Will we bring the Chinese along for lunar and Mars missions?

Mr. Sirangelo: We will very likely keep working with our ISS partners. As for China, we at NASA are prevented by law from talking with the Chinese.

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