It was just last month that NASA administrator Michael Griffin admitted the space agency faces a multi-billion dollar shortfall in its shuttle program over the next five years. The budget crunch comes at a time when the agency wants to begin work on a crew exploration vehicle that could return to the moon and then make a trip to Mars by 2020. While visiting with new Johnson Space Center Director Mike Coats, Hutchison touted the use of outside dollars from educational and even governmental institutions that have an interest in the science gleaned from space. "I think we can add a lot to the research dollars in the hard sciences if we have other capabilities and we don't expect NASA to pay for all of it, because we know that there are limited resources," she says.
In 2004, President Bush outlined his vision for the future of space exploration, detailing plans to end the shuttle program and move toward manned exploration deeper into space. Now, despite the budget shortfall, Hutchison says the United States can't abandon the Space Station project and its international partners. "We have a basic committment to our international partners not to walk away from the investment that they have made as well as the investment that we have made in the building of the Space Station," she says.
Hutchison, who chairs the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Science and Space, is the author of pending legislation that would establish uninterrupted US space flight capability and require the completion of the ISS. She says the U-S has a responsibility to look to the future. "That's what's made America great. That's what's put us number one on the world ecomonically and we need to continue to do that for our future generations or we will have abdicated our responsibility as leaders of our country," she says.
JSC Director Coats, who's been on the job for about three weeks, says any future manned exploration should be a global effort led by the US, but with valuable contributions for other countries like India and China. "I believe that any large space venture is going to be international by nature, and I'm stressing that the precedents we're setting on the Space Station right now are going to be with us for decades to come. I would hope that in the future we can in fact have a good working relationship with the Chinese, the Indians and anyone else who wants to participate," he says.
NASA's current budget is $16.5 billion, about half a percent of the total federal budget.