Congress touts Constellation, wants heavy-lift rocket now

WASHINGTON — More than five dozen lawmakers have asked that President Barack Obama support the “immediate development” of a big new rocket for NASA that could replace the space shuttle and eventually carry astronauts to destinations such as nearby asteroids.

The letter, signed by a bipartisan group of 62 U.S. House members from 18 states, seeks changes in a new White House plan that sets a 2015 deadline for NASA to decide on a so-called “heavy lift” rocket that could launch new spacecraft on missions to asteroids, which Obama wants to do by 2025.

Instead, the lawmakers want Obama to decide immediately, and they advocate using some — if not all — of the rocket designs from the Constellation moon program that the White House largely has canceled.

Obama’s new plan cuts the Ares rockets that were part of Constellation, which faced technical and financial difficulties, and instead sets NASA on a course that relies on commercial rockets to cary cargo and crew to the International Space Station so that the agency could concentrate on developing futuristic new spacecraft.

That plan, however, has gained little traction in Congress.

“If we continue this new space policy, including the outright cancellation of the Constellation program, we are concerned that other countries will forge ahead of us, challenging our space dominance as we literally cede the higher ground to our foreign competitors,” wrote the lawmakers, including U.S. Reps. Alan Grayson of Orlando, Suzanne Kosmas of New Smyrna Beach and Bill Posey of Rockledge.

“It is in the nation’s best interest to leverage the investments made in Constellation over the last five years, into a beyond low Earth orbit exploration today,” they continue.

The letter — which follows a contrary lobbying effort from space advocates in favor of commercial rockets earlier in the week — is the latest attempt to break a months-long stalemate over U.S. space policy. The Obama administration continues to push for increased reliance on the private sector but has been unable to marshal enough support to overcome congressional opposition.

At the same time, supporters of the Constellation program — which has cost at least $9 billion so far — have not been able to generate the momentum needed to save the program either. The result, says industry and Hill sources, is that it could take months, or longer, for Washington to decide on what NASA should do after the space shuttle completes its final missions this year.

Read the letter: nasa letter

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