Annual House / NASA Verbal Brawl Sees More Punches Landed

(Video starts at discussion on contingencies)

In what has become an passage of spring, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden was testifying before Congress once again yesterday, this time before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies.

The committee, chaired by retiring Virginia Congressman Frank Wolf, has been the scene of more than a few contentious such hearings, and yesterday’s was no exception, lasting for nearly three and half hours, much of which was spent in often heated moments which saw Wolf tell the Bolden regarding funding levels for Commercial Crew “I think you’ve misled people,” to which the former General and combat pilot replied “Every time I come here, my integrity is impugned” going on to caution “I am tired of having my integrity impugned.”

Bolden later apologized for losing his temper suggesting that perhaps he misunderstood the numbers to which the chairman was referring. Both Jeff Foust and Marcia Smith have excellent breakdowns of the entire proceedings at their respective websites, but from a NewSpace perpecitve one of the most interesting moments came near the end of the hearing when discussion returned to NASA’s dependence on Russia and the RD-180 engine used in the Atlas booster.

Bolden made the bizarre assertion that Sierra Nevada was not using Russian engines on its Dream Chaser space plane.  Technically of course, the engines are not affixed to the spacecraft, they are on rocket launching it, but it is difficult to imagine any plausible scenario in which the NASA Administrator, a former astronaut, could not be aware of the fact that Dream Chaser is using the Atlas V.

As the sparring came back to the NASA’s lack of a short term contingency plan for losing access to ISS, a subtle, but important takeaway may have come when Culberson, who represents a Houston, Texas district  and is considered likely to take over the chairmanship from Wolf, quoted Elon Musk from a March 24th Aviation Week article where he stated that the nation’s backup plan to the RD-180 should be the all domestic SpaceX Falcon 9. Given the often icy, and  sometimes frequently hostile attitudes displayed towards SpaceX from many on the Republican side of the aisle,  Culberson’s awareness and use of the quote, as well as the tone in doing so, suggests that the SpaceX story is finally beginning to sink in with some members of Congress.

Posted in: Congress, NASA

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