NASA denies new space program is too risky, pricey

The engineers defended their work yesterday to a committee appointed by President Barack Obama to review what's planned once the current shuttle program is retired.

The head of the office that has spent four years designing the next US rocket, called Ares, told members of NASA's Human Space Flight Plans Committee that the current design was the safest, fastest way to get Americans back to space.

"We have done what we said we would do and we are well on the way to our first test flight," said Steve Cook, head of the Ares project office at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville.

Speaking during a public hearing, Cook dismissed suggestions by some that the space agency was on a flawed path with Ares.

"We are not drinking our own bath water," he said. "There have been several outside reviews since we began."

Other managers told the panel they were working through technical challenges with Ares, including a slim possibility that powerful energy waves created during a launch could injure astronauts or make it impossible for them to perform basic tasks, like looking at monitors.

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