msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 3/16/2010 7:56:29 PM ET 2010-03-16T23:56:29

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden defended the space agency's budget Tuesday and said its focus on commercial space transportation would provide ''incredible opportunities'' for U.S. companies.

"This budget is good for NASA because it sets the agency on a sustainable path that is tightly linked to our nation's interests,'' Bolden told space industry executives at the Satellite 2010 conference.

One of few agencies to get a top-line budget increase, NASA's funding is due to increase by $6 billion over the next five years, Bolden said. He said NASA's funding plans would put NASA back on track as a "big-picture innovator'' in technology development that could create future growth.

President Barack Obama's cancellation of the Constellation program, begun under former President George W. Bush to return humans to the moon, has drawn fire from lawmakers worried about losing high-paying jobs in their home states.

Utah's two senators and three members of the House of Representatives sent a letter to Obama Monday calling the plan "penny wise and pound foolish'' and saying it would kill thousands of jobs in their state and across the United States.

Bolden told reporters after his speech that he had not yet seen the letter, but his remarks underscored the problems that plagued the Constellation program, which was run by Lockheed Martin, the Boeing Co. and Alliant Techsystems.

"The Constellation program was on an unsustainable trajectory. If we continued on our current course, at best we would have ended up flying a handful of astronauts to the moon sometime after 2030,'' Bolden said.

Ending the program will cost the government more than $2.5 billion in termination fees, but continued investment would have sharply limited investments in other initiatives and left the United States dependent on Russian spacecraft to reach the International Space Stations, Bolden said.

He said the Obama administration's new drive to promote commercial space transportation to low-Earth orbit would create many new opportunities for U.S. companies and underscored the importance of the International Space Station.

Bolden said he backed a drive by the Obama administration to review export controls that are hampering sales of U.S. products abroad, as did many other government officials.

He said he was hopeful the initiative would at least open up some new opportunities for NASA and its suppliers, even if it did not result in broad reforms.

NASA last month awarded $50 million in grants to five private companies as a first step toward turning over transporting people and cargo to the commercial sector. The five including Boeing; the United Launch Alliance, a Boeing-Lockheed joint venture; and three smaller companies, Paragon Space Development, Sierra Nevada and Blue Origin.

NASA already has contracts with Space Exploration Technologies, also known as SpaceX, and Orbital Sciences to deliver cargo to the International Space Station.

This report includes information from Reuters and msnbc.com.

© 2013 msnbc.com

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