Barack Obama's Letter to Harry Reid & Nancy Pelosi
|“||Dear Majority Leader Reid and Madam Speaker Pelosi:
This Administration's lack of leadership for our nation's space program has left Americans without access to space or the ability to support its astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS) without paying Russia for transportation. The ISS is a world-class research facility, built with approximately $100 billion of U.S. taxpayers' money. With the planned retirement of the Space Shuttle in 2010, the U.S. will be paying Russia for rides to and from the ISS, and for emergency lifeboat services, using their Soyuz spacecraft. Furthermore, at the end of 2011, NASA will no longer even have the legal authority to continue paying Russia for Soyuz flights, so unless we act immediately, the U.S. will abandon its role in supporting, and benefiting from, missions to this amazing facility, leaving it to our international partners.
The Bush administration's plan to have astronauts explore beyond low-earth orbit, returning to the Moon and then on to Mars, has never been funded adequately. In order to pay for this program, all other NASA programs have been short-changed ─ from our important earth and space science missions to investment in critical aeronautics programs. The very engine of innovation for our nation, investment in research and technology, has been all but eliminated at NASA. America needs to renew its commitment to NASA and to provide sustained, stable direction with an honest budget and sufficient resources for success across all of its critical missions: Human Spaceflight, Science, and Aeronautics Research.
As Dr. Michael Griffin, the NASA administrator, said recently, "In a rational world, (NASA) would have been allowed to pick a Shuttle retirement date to be consistent with Ares/Orion availability, (NASA) would have been asked to deploy Ares/Orion as early as possible (rather than "not later than 2014") and we would have been provided the necessary budget to make it so" [NASA e-mail, 8/18/08]. Regrettably, the current administration has not behaved rationally and, with the Russian invasion of Georgia, NASA is now left with more limited options, all of them much worse than if the administration and their Republican allies in Congress had thought through the strategic consequences of these decisions five years ago.
Because of this failure of leadership, America is now faced with three less-than-optimal options:
Administrator Griffin has initiated an analysis of the third option to determine its feasibility, cost, and schedule implications. The results should be available in the November timeframe so that the President-elect's transition team can prepare appropriate action along with appropriate FY2010 budgeting. NASA's appropriators, however, should be prepared to consider increasing NASA's budget to extend safe Shuttle operations beyond 2010 and to accelerate government and private-sector efforts to provide human access to low-earth orbit. Any effort to extend the Shuttle program must receive adequate funding, ensuring that progress on developing new vehicles is not further delayed by diverting funds to the Shuttle.
In the meantime, while we await the results of NASA's Shuttle study, there are three concrete steps that Congress should take immediately. I urge you to:
NASA should be funded appropriately to carry out its important goals. In 1961, President Kennedy inspired America to explore the heavens. He set difficult goals for NASA but, importantly, he and a Democratic Congress provided NASA with the resources necessary for success. And succeed they did. NASA helped America win the Cold War without firing a single shot by dazzling the world with our technological and moral leadership. It is time to dazzle them again.