Commercial space plan requires caution, Bill Nelson warns

June 15th, 2010

Source: Florida Today

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson advocated a “walk before you run” approach to relying on commercial rockets to carry U.S. astronauts to the space station as he outlined his NASA priorities Monday.

Nelson, who heads the science subcommittee that sets policy for NASA, also pushed for the continued development of government vehicles — particularly a heavy-lift rocket — that could serve as backups, if needed.Nelson developed his priorities in consultation with Sen. David Vitter of Lousiana, the top Republican on the subcommittee, and full committee Chairman John Rockefeller, D-W.Va., and top Republican, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas.The priorities were vague enough to overlap with President Barack Obama’s goals. But they also appear to be an attempt at compromise with those who criticized the White House’s plan as ceding leadership in human spaceflight.Obama provoked broad opposition by proposing in February to drop the Constellation return-to-the-moon program and to rely on commercial rockets to reach the International Space Station.”I believe these goals and the programmatic direction that follows will prove consistent with several of the president’s priorities,” Nelson wrote in a letter to Sen. Barbara Mikulski, a Maryland Democrat who heads NASA’s appropriations subcommittee. Mikulski — who had urged astronaut safety, setting a destination and balancing exploration with research — said she appreciated Nelson’s “thoughtful” letter.

“I will continue to work with Senator Nelson and our colleagues as we move our respective NASA authorization and funding bills this summer,” Mikulski said.

In his outline, Nelson supported:

  • Adding a third shuttle mission. Nelson noted that it would only be authorized after the completion of an independent safety review. NASA had planned to prepare Atlantis to serve as a rescue vehicle in case the final scheduled mission ran into trouble. If the addition of one more shuttle mission is approved, it could happen next June.
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