NASA Chief Says New Direction To Include Stronger International Partnerships
“We look forward to continuing our leadership in space exploration with the global community, building on the strong relationships we have now,” NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden told a crowd of 150 or so people at the Los Angeles World Affairs Council forum in Century City on Wednesday evening.
The International Space Station (ISS), where three Americans and three Russians are living aboard, is just an example of how our former adversaries are now our partners in achieving previously impossible goals, Bolden added. “I saw this firsthand when I flew the first space shuttle mission with a Russian cosmonaut onboard.”
NASA has roughly 470 active international agreements and every continent is represented, Bolden said. Under President Obama's new National Space Policy issued in June, that number is likely to increase. One of the policy's guidelines directs NASA to identify areas for international cooperation, such as human spaceflight activities and environmental monitoring.
Bolden acknowledged it is still premature to determine NASA's specific direction due to ongoing Congressional debate over Obama's proposed budget.
The president proposed an increase of six billion dollars over the next five years for NASA. The agenda canceled the manned lunar Constellation program, which was determined by a space panel to be overbudget and behind schedule.
Instead, Obama's space policy directs NASA to send humans to an asteroid by 2025 and to Mars by the mid-2030s. Additionally, it orders NASA to seek partnerships with the private sector for crew and cargo transportation services to and from the ISS. With the space shuttle program scheduled to retire next year, having commercial transportation services in the meantime would allow NASA to focus on developing more advanced spacecrafts that can carry astronauts into deep space.
The White House's transformative agenda for NASA faces ongoing debate within Congress, much of it based on distrust of the commercial private sector and political fights to save in-state jobs.
In July, the Senate and House subcommittees approved plans with contradictory directions for NASA. One difference is the House version wants to revive the Constellation program whereas the Senate version orders NASA to create a heavy-lift rocket by 2016.
“There is something in each one of those budgets that is incredible for us because they broadly do support the president's proposed budget,” Bolden told Neon Tommy. “So once our budget is finalized, our job is to try to do the best we can.”
The final NASA compromise will unlikely become law until later this year.
UPDATE: On Thursday evening, the Senate passed a bill that compromises with Obama's budget proposal for NASA. The bill would require NASA to develop heavy-lift rocket technology capable of supporting missions beyond low-Earth orbit starting in 2016 and extend the ISS until at least 2020. It would still cancel Constellation but pushes NASA to use as many parts and assets related to the now-defunct manned lunar program as possible. The bill also provides some funding for commercial rocket companies to carry crew and cargo to space.