Washington D.C.– Today the Science, Space, and Technology Committee held a hearing initially intended to examine NASA’s selection of a heavy-lift space launch system (SLS) that will be used to launch future crew and cargo flights beyond low Earth orbit.  However, a final decision from the Administration on SLS has faced significant and continuing delays, and is now over six months late.  Members at today’s hearing expressed considerable concerns and disappointment to NASA Administrator Charles Bolden about the delays and uncertainty surrounding America’s human space flight program.

“It is a shame that for many of us that simply want to preserve, protect, and defend our leadership in space that we see NASA paying for rides to the Space Station from countries that may not have America’s best interests at heart,” said Chairman Ralph Hall (R-TX)

Nine months ago President Obama signed the NASA Authorization Act of 2010. Provisions in the bill clearly directed NASA to provide Congress with decisions on the selection of the crew vehicle and launch system designs by January 9, 2011.  The Act also included the goal of reaching operational capability for the core elements not later than December 31, 2016.  Chairman Hall today noted that Congress considered these dates attainable, saying that they “reflect Congress’s deep concern that we needed to have a back-up capability in place, should commercial launch vehicles fail to materialize.”

Instead, on January 15, Congress received what NASA described as a “Preliminary Report,” emphasizing its selection of prototype vehicle designs, without committing the agency to construction. More than six months later, NASA has still not provided the final decision to Congress.

Such continuing delays have already resulted in the loss of thousands of highly skilled aerospace jobs, and threaten to do costly damage to the U.S. industrial base.  In testimony before the Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee earlier this year, a witness from the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics testified that, “…the space industrial base is not FACING a crisis; we are IN a crisis. And we are losing a National Perishable Asset…our unique workforce.”

Expressing the Committee’s prevailing frustration, Chairman Hall said, “General Bolden, the fact that we do not have a final decision on the SLS and the supporting documents that the invitation letter requested represents an insult to Congress.”  He went on to say, “We have a record littered with requests by Congress for information over the last two years. We have waited for answers that have not come. We have run out of patience….I would like to point out today that the committee reserves the right to open an investigation into these continued delays and join the investigation initiated by the Senate.  It’s a shame we have to consider doing that.”

Echoing these remarks, Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee Chairman Steven Palazzo (R-MS) said “Today’s hearing only further exemplifies the need for NASA to better communicate with Congress, and with the public, with accurate and timely information about the state of our nation’s spaceflight program.  Too many people, too many jobs, and our nation’s leadership in space is at stake.  We have to work together.”

On a more positive note, Chairman Hall noted Congress’s strong support for all of the people engaged in developing the next heavy-lift vehicle as well as those working on the commercial cargo and crew contracts; people who are working every day to keep America at the forefront of human spaceflight.  Hall said, “It is these engineers, technicians and scientists who, despite the absence of good leadership from this White House, strive to dream big and carry on the legacy of those that came before them.”