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Washington DC (RIA Novosti) Jun 21, 2013
A Republican-backed bill released Wednesday that would authorize NASA programs for the next two years backs a $500 million project to develop crew transportation systems to end US reliance on Russian rockets for getting astronauts into space even as it blocks a less costly project to capture, redirect and explore an asteroid.
The draft NASA Authorization Act says that the US space agency's core mission is to push the frontiers of space "exploration deeper into the solar system" and stipulates that NASA must fund the development of crew systems that would "launch American astronauts on American rockets from American soil as soon as possible, so we are no longer reliant on Russia."
But the bill also relegates an ambitious NASA project to capture an asteroid to the trash can.
At a hearing on Capitol Hill to discuss the bill, House Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics Chairman Rep. Steven Palazzo called the $105 million asteroid project, which President Barack Obama unveiled in April in his proposed 2014 budget, "a costly and complex distraction."
Republicans have added language to the NASA Authorization Act that would "prohibit NASA from doing any work on the asteroid project and we will work with appropriators to ensure the agency complies with this directive," Palazzo said in his opening statement at the hearing.
Democratic Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson railed against the bill, saying it would put NASA "on a path to mediocrity" and do the space agency "long-term damage."
The bill put US dominance in space above concerns for human safety by setting "an arbitrary deadline by when NASA will have had to carry out a successful commercial crew flight to the International Space Station-a deadline that I fear will lead to the kind of schedule pressure the Columbia Accident Investigation Board warned against a decade ago after the tragic loss of the space shuttle Columbia," Johnson said.
The panel that investigated what caused the Columbia space shuttle to disintegrate on re-entry to Earth's atmosphere in 2003, killing all seven crew members on board, blamed the accident on "compromises that were required to gain approval for the Shuttle, subsequent years of resource constraints, fluctuating priorities, schedule pressures, mischaracterization of the Shuttle as operational rather than developmental, and lack of an agreed national vision for human space flight."
Democratic Rep. Donna Edwards noted that the bill would slash NASA's budget by almost $1 billion from what Obama proposed for the agency in his 2014 budget.
NASA's Earth Sciences department, which conducts research into climate change, would take a huge hit, losing one-third of its budget.
The hearing came a day after NASA released more details about its "asteroid grand challenge," saying it hoped to capture an asteroid, redirect its orbit and send a manned mission to it as early as 2021 and calling for ideas from citizen scientists on how to develop new technology that will be needed to get to an asteroid and eventually beyond, to Mars.
In fact, NASA said Tuesday, asteroids could serve as a stopover on the way to the Red Planet, and elements found on the surface of asteroids could be used to make fuel for rockets bound for Mars.
Source: RIA Novosti
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