NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and Republican Congressman Mo Brooks traded sharp words on Capitol Hill Thursday afternoon over America’s continued cooperation with Roscosmos, the Russian Federal Space Agency, and NASA’s 2015 budget proposal.
During a meeting of the Subcommittee on Space to discuss that NASA budget, Bolden told the legislators if the space agency is fully funded by the Congress then the U.S. could likely end its dependence on Russia to get American astronauts to the International Space Station. He said he feels “confident” that America can again send its own astronauts into space by 2017 with that funding.
Echoing sentiments made by several members of Congress at the hearing, the NASA chief added, “I do not want to be reliant on the Russians to get my crews to the International Space Station.”
Several legislators expressed concern that the diplomatic breakdown between Washington and Moscow over Russia’s incursion into Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula could derail cooperation between NASA and Roscosmos.
The NASA chief downplayed those worries, citing the continued cooperation between the two nations in 2008 when Russian forces went into neighboring Georgia. Bolden said at that time relations between NASA and Roscosmos remained “robust.”
But Rep. Brooks questioned the NASA chief and the suggestion that Congress had any responsibility for NASA’s reliance on Russia to hitch rides to the ISS.
“This administration,” Brooks stated, “made the decision to mothball our space shuttles and put them in museums rather than keeping them available should circumstances or emergencies dictate their use.”
The congressman then went on to argue that NASA suffers because the White House spends 40 times more on “welfare programs that put a high priority on buying election votes no matter the loss of funding for NASA, national defense, or other productive functions of the federal government.”
In the tense exchange that followed between Brooks and Bolden, the NASA boss explained that the plan to scrap the shuttle program was crafted following the recommendation of federal officials investigating the breakup of the Shuttle Columbia during the Bush administration. He then added, “I was the one who recommended to the president that we phase the shuttle out.”