A Congressional panel led by Bill Nelson, the influential Democratic senator from Florida, flayed NASA Administrator Charles Bolden this afternoon over the Administration's proposal to cancel NASA's $3 billion Constellation program. Nelson and other members on the space subcommittee of the Senate Commerce Committee—blamed NASA for what they described as the lack of a clear goal for exploration, signaling that the new space policy laid out in the Administration's 2011 budget will face tough political opposition in Congress in the months ahead.
NASA's plan, unveiled earlier this month, is to jettison an earlier program to land Americans on the moon by 2020 on board launchers and spacecraft that the space agency would develop for the purpose. Although agency officials say NASA is still interested in human spaceflight, the agency now intends to turn over the development of launch vehicles to the commercial sector, and invest strategically in developing key technologies toward long-range plans for sending astronauts beyond the low-earth orbit. However, NASA has yet to formally announce what destinations in space it will aim for, and by when.
At today's hearing, Bolden said that the new plan would advance rather than slow down space exploration in contrast to the lunar mission proposed by the previous Administration, which lacked sufficient resources to be viable. "A vision without resources is a hallucination," he said of the earlier plan. Ranking member Senator David Vitter (R-LA), who was particularly critical in his remarks, responded that NASA's lack of a vision was just as bad. "Resources without vision is a waste of time," he said.
Bolden will appear before the House of Representatives science committee at a hearing tomorrow, and will no doubt face similar questions.