Congressman: 'We Can't Go to Mars Until Our People Can Go to the Grocery Store'

By Susan Jones | December 13, 2012 | 6:38 AM EST

Engineers work on a model of the Mars rover Curiosity at the Spacecraft Assembly Facility at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., on Thursday, Aug. 2, 2012.

( - A "challenging budget environment" is one of the biggest impediments to America's space program, Rep. Ralph Hall (R-Texas) told a House hearing on Wednesday.

"The good work that NASA has done, and that NASA can do in the future, is so important to me," said Hall, who chairs the Science, Space, and Technology Committee.

"I want to preserve our International Space Station, and as a strategic goal, to go beyond it. But it's not likely with this Congress -- and this electorate -- that we can expect vast sums for the Moon, Mars, or an asteroid. We can't go to Mars until our people can go to the grocery store."

Hall said the economy has to improve before NASA funding increases: "Fiscal realities demand that NASA become more efficient and sized correctly to accomplish its goals, but consensus will have to be re-established among the agency's stakeholders to clarify NASA's strategic vision, goals, and missions."

The National Research Council, in a report dated Dec. 5, concluded there is a "mismatch" between NASA's assigned programs and the budget allocated by Congress.

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For example, NASA's human spaceflight program has set an interim goal of visiting an asteroid by 2025.

"However, we've seen limited evidence that this has been widely accepted as a compelling destination by NASA's own workforce, by the nation as a whole, or by the international community," said Albert Carnesale, chancellor emeritus and professor at UCLA, who chaired the committee that wrote the report.  

"The lack of national consensus on NASA's most publicly visible human spaceflight goal along with budget uncertainty has undermined the agency's ability to guide program planning and allocate funding," Carnesale added.

The report urged the White House to take the lead in "forging a new consensus on NASA's future."

It offers four options for NASA, including:

-- An "aggressive restructuring program" to reduce infrastructure and personnel costs and improve efficiency;

-- More cost-sharing with other U.S. government agencies, private sector industries, and international partners;

-- Increase the size of the NASA budget;

-- Reduce the size and scope of NASA's current programs portfolio.

“I want us to work together to ensure that the American people get the kind of results that NASA is capable of producing and has demonstrated so often,” Hall told Wednesday's hearing.