On March 27, 2019, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies held a hearing titled, “NASA’s FY 2020 Budget Request.”
Members in Attendance:
Subcommittee Chairman Jose Serrano (D-NY)
Subcommittee Ranking Member Robert Aderholt (R-AL)
Rep. Grace Meng (D-NY)
Rep. Martha Roby (R-AL)
Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-PA)
Rep. Steven Palazzo (R-MS)
Rep. Charlie Crist (D-FL)
Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-OH)
James Bridenstine, Administrator, NASA
Chairman Serrano: Over the past few weeks we have had the President’s Budget Request (PBR), your statement about looking alternatives to the SLS with commercial rockets to make an Orion lunar test in June 2020 for Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1) at a recent Senate hearing and now the Vice President’s statements about SLS yesterday at the National Space Council meeting. Is this a political timeline?
Mr. Bridenstine: SLS has had slips in the schedule. If there are slips in schedule without changes in behavior, NASA must look at other options that are feasible and can fit within cost and schedule. The schedule for SLS needs to be accelerated to make the June 2020 launch.
Chairman Serrano: Can you provide more details into what the costs will be to accelerate?
Mr. Bridenstine: NASA now has 45-day study underway which will provide those answers.
Ranking Member Aderholt: Can you provide any insight how NASA will manage this new goal to land humans on the moon in five years?
Mr. Bridenstine: The 45-day study will have options. One opportunity is to horizontally integrate SLS, rather than vertically. Management must change as well. There is a big difference between operations as opposed to development, therefore NASA is creating a new mission directorate for Moon and Mars.
Rep. Meng: Many were excited at the idea of the all-female spacewalk. Why did it have to be canceled because of problems with space suits?
Mr. Bridenstine: NASA works constantly on having to be able to include more women at NASA. The suits are used only when they are safe and can ensure mission success. NASA made the right call.
Rep. Roby: SLS employs 13,000 jobs in Alabama and is critical for exploration. Can you tell us what SLS will provide for future missions?
Mr. Bridenstine: We need large up-mass capability and only SLS can do it. Especially the Exploration Upper Stage (EUS) is essential for delivering landers, habitation modules and of course Orion.
Rep. Roby: How does SLS help us lead our partners and when can we expect an announcement of a crew for the 2022 flight?
Mr. Bridenstine: Our partners want us to have a rocket like SLS. We are already looking at what the crew will be like for 2022.
Rep. Palazzo: Is the space debris problem getting worse?
Mr. Bridenstine: Yes. NASA is part of an international working group on space debris. Estimates now state we can expect every 5 - 9 years that there will be a major space collision. The U.S. Air Force needs to complete their Space Fence program for Space Situational Awareness (SSA). Next we need to address is Space Traffic Management (STM) and finally, remediation capability needs to be created.
Rep. Crist: I’m concerned about possible cuts to SLS hurting Florida, how will NASA make sure this doesn’t happen? How will we get humans to Mars by 2033?
Mr. Bridenstine: We need SLS to achieve the Vice President’s timeline that was announced. We also need new technologies and the Moon is to be proving ground.
Chairman Serrano: Why is there no money in the budget for WFIRST?
Mr. Bridenstine: WFIRST and JWST are paired together. One needs the other. JWST is a flagship mission but it is also behind schedule and over budget, however. NASA needs to get JWST completed before work on WFIRST.
Ranking Member Aderholt: How can SLS be used for other kinds of missions?
Mr. Bridenstine: We need to utilize SLS for all kinds of missions. SLS needs a surge capacity more than the current cadence. Europa Clipper needs SLS, but if SLS cannot meet those mission requirements, NASA will look at other options.
Rep. Roby: What is the status for contracting for the SLS core stage for EM-3?
Mr. Bridenstine: We will be contracting very soon. As well we need to do the same for EM-4,5 and so on.
Chairman Serrano: What can you tell us about funding for ISS beyond 2025? Will the US give up a presence in LEO?
Mr. Bridenstine: We do not want to give up LEO. We want to commercialize LEO. There can be many market opportunities. NASA can be one of many customers.
Ranking Member Aderholt: Nuclear power in space is supported by Congress. Can you tell us what NASA is doing about nuclear power in space? How will those efforts help the new timeline announced by the Vice President?
Mr. Bridenstine: Nuclear thermal power efforts are now in Phase One. This administration wants to accelerate nuclear space efforts. NASA will provide more detailed information to this committee soon.