WASHINGTON — Instead of following President Barack Obama's proposal to cancel a new-generation rocket and space exploration program, a bipartisan group of House members is asking NASA merely to slow its development.

The group, including Reps. Rob Bishop and Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, asked NASA in a letter Thursday to assemble a team of experts to figure how it could continue development of the Constellation program by using only the money that Obama proposed in his 2011 budget.

The group wants recommendations back within 30 days.

The Constellation program includes the Ares I and Ares V rockets, plus a space exploration vehicle to help return to the moon and aim toward Mars.

However, Obama proposed killing that program and instead relying on private companies to provide space flight in the near term with yet-to-be-proven vehicles. Bishop says that could cost 2,000 jobs at Alliant Techsystems in Utah and 30,000 jobs nationwide.

The group's letter on Thursday said, "It is imperative that the United States remain the world's leading spacefaring nation. To maintain this leadership, we ardently believe that NASA must continue development of its own exploration spacecraft and maintain a robust human spaceflight program."

It added, "NASA must have a clear exploration mission, timeline, goals and a destination, and its funding must be carefully aligned with this exploration plan."

But the House members wrote, "Under this administration's proposal, each of these critical elements is missing. The U.S. will have no exploration spacecraft or launch vehicles in development for the foreseeable future."

Members of Congress of both parties from areas that would be heavily hit by job losses from Obama's proposal — including Utah, Florida and Texas — have complained loudly at budget hearings about the proposal.

The Wall Street Journal reported last week that amid such griping, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden had sent a memo asking top administrators to look at possible compromises to keep congressional critics happy.

This story was reported from Salt Lake City.

e-mail: lee@desnews.com