As budget time rolls around, the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology offered the House Budget Committee guidance on what NASA’s priorities should be for the space agency’s 2014 budget in a letter posted on March 11, 2013 on the SpaceRef website. However the committee’s vice chairman, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-CA has sent a second letter offering a dissent.
The main disagreement between the full committee and Rohrabacher concerns human space flight and what program should receive priority, the commercial crew program or the space exploration program that would build the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle and the heavy lift Space Launch System that is envisioned to send astronauts beyond low Earth orbit for the first time in decades.
The committee believes that the space exploration program should get priority, not only because space exploration represents the future of NASA but that the Orion/SLS would serve as a backup system for sending astronauts to and from the International Space Station should none of the commercially operated, government funded options succeed.
Rohrabacher disagrees in his separate letter. He condemned the Space Launch System in no uncertain terms.
“We continue to hear that the SLS/MPCV system will serve as a back-up for Earth-to-orbit transportation in the unlikely event that none of the other systems in development are successful. Last year's request for this ‘back-up system’ was more than 300% of the appropriated level of the primary system. By acting on this type of faulty logic, we have created a national debt as large as our GDP and still our nation refuses to take its foot off the deficit spending accelerator. SLS is unaffordable, and with relatively modest expenditures on specific technology development, we do not need a heavy lift vehicle of that class to explore the Moon, Mars, or near-Earth asteroids.”
Rohrabacher did not elaborate on his claim about how “specific technological development” would negate the need for a heavy lift vehicle like the SLS. Some have suggested that a system that would require many launches of fuel using available rockets to an orbiting depot for each beyond LEO mission would be a better and cheaper way to pursue space exploration than building a heavy lift rocket to perform missions with fewer launches.