Hearing “From Here to Mars” is Cordial, but Not Much Mars

Following what might be called a “testy Tuesday” which saw a contentious hearing featuring NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and Congressman Frank Wolf turn personal,   Wednesday brought the arrival of a wave of bipartisanship in both the House and Senate, at least where the nation’s space program is concerned.

First, the House Science, Space and Technology subcommittee quickly agreed to an authorization bill which dropped the controversial prohibition against spending any funds on the Asteroid Retrieval Mission, even as it requested a report to delineate just what the mission could provide in the way of Mars applicable developments which would not be available from going to the Moon.

The bill also includes the new injection of a provision related to the Commercial Crew program stating that safety is the highest priority, and a requirement that NASA specify where it is deviating from recommendations by the Astronaut Safety Advisory Panel.  (The committee might want to look at where it is deviating from ASAP as well, as the most recent annual report emphasized the need to have at least two providers, and by extension, the funding to support both.)

Also on Wednesday, a Senate Science and Space Subcommittee of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee held a hearing entitled “From Here to Mars.”  The hearing was chaired by Florida Senator Bill Nelson, who was joined by a late arriving Mark Rubio.

Giving testimony were:

Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations, Susan Eisenhower, Chairman Emeritus, the Eisenhower Institute and President, the Eisenhower Group, Inc, Former astronaut LeRoy Chiao, Special Advisor for Human Spaceflight, the Space Foundation, and Jeff Manber, President, Nanoracks, LLC.

All in all, the hearing focused much more on near term issues and international collaboration than it did on Mars, with an interesting discussion regarding the merits of asking China to participate in the ISS program, and Eisenhower stressing that highly counterproductive nature of the current prohibition against most forms of communication between the U.S. and Russia. She also observed of the mostly empty room that if the same meeting were held in the Russian Duma, it would be packed.

Also of note, when asked about dependence on the Russian RD-180 engine, Bill Gerstenmaier stated somewhat bluntly that it “is not a NASA issue.”  

From a NewSpace perspective, one interesting moment came when Chiao observed that the if the U.S. does not find additional funds to support mission for SLS, then perhaps it should engage in a series of smaller, less expensive flights using commercial boosters, analogous to the Gemini program. Although he specifically referenced the upcoming test flight using a Delta Heavy, it seemed that he might have had another booster in mind as well.

As usual, there was absolutely no mention of SpaceX’s own ambitions for Mars. Some might consider that an oversight given the title of the hearing “From Here to Mars.” Perhaps the hope is he’ll at least have a pot of fresh coffee waiting for the traditional welcome to Mars ceremony.

Posted in: Congress, Mars

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