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Cochran gets answers on Stennis' future

HANCOCK COUNTY — Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) says he has “gained assurances” that the Stennis Space Center will have a robust future as a testing facility whether or not Congress agrees to the sweeping changes proposed for NASA by the Obama administration.

Cochran questioned NASA Administrator Charles F. Bolden Jr. about Stennis during a hearing to review the FY2011 budget request for the space agency. Cochran, as an ex-officio member of the Senate Commerce, Justice and Science Appropriations Subcommittee, took part in the review of the NASA budget.

Cochran questioned the role of testing and safety in the administration’s controversial plans for NASA, which would involve canceling or significantly restructuring the Constellation program and relying instead on commercial spacecraft to move astronauts and cargo into space. The President’s plan would replace Constellation’s deep space launch activities with a new NASA-built Heavy Lift Vehicle, set to be selected no later than 2015.

“The Stennis Space Center provides test facilities and experience to help make sure that we do have demonstrated reliability, which is necessary to meet NASA safety standards. The United States space program today and in the future must rely on safety and testing, both of which are specialties at Stennis,” Cochran said. “As we move forward, I want assurances that our facilities at Stennis will play an integral role in advancing American space exploration.”

Responding to Cochran’s concern that the NASA budget request does not recommend specific funding for tests or facility upgrades a Stennis, Bolden stressed the need for a “robust testing program” and pointed to $312 million for commercial space testing, some of which will take place at Stennis. Bolden also noted ongoing work to retrofit the A-3 test stand at Stennis and the overall need to test space engine propulsion and Heavy Lift Vehicle systems.

“Stennis is critical,” Bolden testified.

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