NASA Administrator Charles Bolden has been at the receiving end of tough questions from Congress numerous times over the past 5 years. But his pugnacious exchange with lawmakers at a hearing of the House of Representatives Appropriations Committee today is likely to go down as one of his more memorable visits to Capitol Hill.
Bolden was first grilled by Representative Frank Wolf (R-VA), chair of the commerce, justice, and science appropriations subcommittee, over alleged lapses of security at NASA, which Wolf and many others believe has made the agency vulnerable to espionage by China. Bolden said NASA was improving its security.
Then Wolf demanded to know why NASA had been slow to share information with the committee on the expected budget and schedule for programs and the road maps for achieving goals such as the development of a rocket that can take astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS). “As a result, we are often required to make decisions in an information vacuum,” Wolf said. At one point, he remarked, “Instead of posturing, let’s just be honest.”
The comment got Bolden hot under the collar. “Every time I come here, my integrity is impugned,” Bolden replied. He insisted that he had never misrepresented anything to the committee. “I am offended,” he said.
Bolden was challenged by Wolf and other lawmakers on several elements of the administration’s 2015 budget proposal, including the decision to continue funding a controversial asteroid capture mission, and the decision to mothball the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) if NASA can’t find more partners to share the cost.
“We are still looking for ways to save SOFIA,” Bolden said, while reiterating the administration’s view that SOFIA was a lower priority than other astrophysics missions in NASA’s portfolio.
Representative John Culberson (R-TX) asked whether NASA had made any contingency plans for sending U.S. astronauts to the ISS in the event of a continuing diplomatic standoff with Russia. Bolden answered that if Congress were to grant the $858 million that NASA requested in the 2015 budget for the development of a commercial crew vehicle, the agency would expect to have access to the space station without reliance on the Russians by 2017.