Senate budget chair takes NASA to task on SLS, Webb setbacks

BUDGET CHAIR: SLS, WEBB TELESCOPE 'RISK VITAL NASA MISSIONS.' Sen. Mike Enzi, the Wyoming Republican who chairs the Senate Budget Committee, told NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine this week he is “troubled” by cost overruns and delays on several major NASA programs that “put at risk vital NASA missions and taxpayer dollars.” The two main culprits, of course: Boeing’s Space Launch System rocket, which is nearly two years behind schedule, and the Northrop Grumman-managed James Webb Space Telescope, the follow on to the Hubble Space Telescope that is now a whopping seven years behind. The cost of the telescope and the SLS have increased $814 million and $881 million respectively in the last year alone.

How will the programs impact plans to return humans to the moon by 2024? The Government Accountability Office "found that there are ‘6 to 12 months of risk’ associated with the planned June 2020 Exploration Mission-1 launch date. If those risks are realized … to what extent will that affect NASA’s ability to execute … a crewed flight around the moon?” Enzi wrote to Bridenstine. He also questioned NASA on what its doing to address 15 open recommendations drawn from the GAO's 2019 report of high-risk acquisition projects across the government. Bridenstine’s answers are due back to Enzi by Aug. 14.