In response to reports that he was looking for a Plan B to address Congressional concerns, the head of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration said Thursday that he was not backing away from the Obama administration’s proposal to reshape the nation’s human spaceflight program.
The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday that Michael L. Coats, director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, had the blessing of Maj. Gen. Charles F. Bolden Jr., the NASA administrator, to explore “what a potential compromise might look like” with Congress over the direction of NASA.
General Bolden “agreed to let us set up a Plan B team,” Mr. Coats wrote in an e-mail message sent Tuesday to Stephen J. Altemus, the chief engineer at Johnson. Mr. Coats added in a parenthetical remark that Plan B was his phrase, not General Bolden’s.
In a statement NASA released Thursday, General Bolden said, “I did not ask anyone for an alternative to the president’s plan and budget.”
President Obama’s budget request to Congress last month would cancel NASA’s Constellation program to send astronauts back to the Moon and would turn to commercial companies for transportation to the International Space Station. The $19 billion request for 2011, an increase of $300 million over the current fiscal year’s budget, would also add billions of dollars for research and development.
The president’s proposal has received a skeptical and sometimes hostile reception in Congress, with some members criticizing it as lacking details.
“The president’s budget for NASA is my budget,” General Bolden said. “I strongly support the priorities and the direction for NASA that he has put forward.”
Robert Jacobs, a NASA spokesman, said that General Bolden had talked this week with Mr. Coats and Robert D. Cabana, director of the John F. Kennedy Space Center in Florida, at a meeting of senior NASA managers and that General Bolden had asked for ideas to speed research and development for a heavy-lift rocket. The administration’s budget proposal includes research money for such a rocket.
“It was no more than that,” Mr. Jacobs said. “It was part of the existing budget request.”
In the e-mail message, Mr. Coats wrote that General Bolden would soon meet with Representative Bart Gordon, Democrat of Tennessee and chairman of the House Committee on Science and Technology. Mr. Coats mentioned three priorities: development of a spacecraft, development of a heavy-lift rocket and a rocket test program. That would largely match Constellation’s components.
By Kenneth Chang/NYT