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Bishop joins grilling of NASA over cuts

WASHINGTON — Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, scolded NASA Administrator Charles Bolden on Thursday for his proposal to cancel the Constellation program, saying that will put America's rocket scientists out of work and scare youths into thinking that science has no future.

"It's not a program for a bold new path. It's more like managing America's decline," Bishop told Bolden at a House Science Committee hearing on NASA's 2011 budget. Bishop is a former member of the committee, and appeared for questioning as a guest.

He was among many members, Republican and Democrat, who complained about NASA proposals to kill the Constellation program to return to the moon and aim for Mars, which included two new rocket programs and a spacecraft program.

The Obama administration proposes to privatize U.S. space flight for the near future, and to depend on Russian rockets to reach the space station after the Space Shuttle program ends this year.

Bishop's temper boiled over as his turn for questioning came just after Bolden had just finished talking about a program — called Summers of Inspiration — designed to encourage more youths to study math, science and engineering.

Bishop, taking off his glasses and pointing them at Bolden as he lectured, said, "Summers of Inspiration is not going to fool a kid in college or in high school right now who looks at 20,000 to 30,000 private sector jobs who are involved in science, math and engineering being given a pink slip."

Instead, Bishop said, they will see "the kind of chaos that goes with" such layoffs in family life. "It's a negative message and there's certainly no inspiration with this."

Bishop has said that cancelling Constellation will cost at least 2,000 jobs in Utah, and would shutter ATK's Promontory operations for rocket manufacturing and testing.

ATK and NASA are scheduled to conduct the last ground test for the Space Shuttle today, marking the closure of a program that has spanned more than three decades.

Bishop asked Bolden if he had any idea how much the Russians would charge in coming years for travel to the space station. Bolden said that is being negotiated.

Bishop questioned Bolden about how much NASA had consulted with the Defense Department about the effects to the industrial base that may come from cancelling Constellation on top of other recent missile program cuts. Bolden said he had some informal talks with a few Defense officials.

Bishop also asked if Bolden had looked at a Defense Department report about what simply delaying Constellation would do to the industrial base (and perhaps permanent loss of rocket scientists and production lines for defense missiles). Bolden said he had not seen it.

Bishop said, "It says if there is a delay in Constellation, it has a significant negative impact on the defense side of this equation. Cancellation has to be a very significant negative impact."

Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., chairwoman of a subcommittee overseeing NASA, agreed, and said in a statement, "I would hate to see American aeronautical engineers emigrating to Europe, India, Russia, and China because that's where the action is."

Giffords also told Bolden, "Proposing the decimation of the most exciting project or program that the United States does without consulting with members (of Congress), without talking to the defense industry, without building a coalition to make such a radical shift is hard to stomach."

Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Fla., complained that NASA is trading a program it is confident would work in Constellation for mere hopes that private industry might come up with something cheaper that is as safe.

Grayson said, "What you're doing is taking NASA's manned space program and making it a faith-based initiative."

This story was reported from Salt Lake City.

e-mail: lee@desnews.com