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House Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics
FY98 NASA Authorization Hearing on the International Space Station
The House Science Subcommittee on Space & Aeronautics today held a hearing on Space Science and NASA's Life and Microgravity Sciences and Applications program.
Testifying before the Subcommittee were Dr. Wes Huntress, NASA Associate Administrator of the Space Science Office; Arnauld Nicogossian, NASA Associate Administrator of Life and Microgravity Sciences and Applications; Dr. Neal Pellis, Program Manager at the Biotechnology Cell Science Program at JSC; Dr. Canizares, Chairman of the Space Studies Board, National Research Council; Dr. Shoemaker, noted astronomer at the Lowell Observatory, and; Dr. Reggie Edgerton, Vice Chair of the UCLA Physiological Science Department.
Space science and microgravity science encompass a wide area of investigation. Each of the panel members provided a brief statement then the Subcommittee members asked two rounds of questions. Attendance by members of the subcommittee was not as high as that of yesterday's hearing on the International Space Station.
Huntress discussed the many successes of the space science program at NASA, from the Mars Program, to discoveries by the Hubble Space Telescope, to recent data on Jupiter's moon Europa, which may contain oceans of water. According to Huntress, NASA's space science program "is doing very well, in spite of a 10-percent reduction between FY 1996 and FY 1997." Huntress said next year's budget request "is crucial to maintaining the momentum that has been building in recent years and for providing a degree of stability and robustness to NASA's Space Science Program."
Nicogossian said the major problem for the microgravity program was access to space. "By far the biggest challenge we face in the years ahead," he said, "will be to maintain the robustness of the science and commercial research community in the face of delayed access to space as a result of the re-phasing of the international space station schedule."
According to Nicogossian, NASA is "examining options to fly additional Shuttle flights during the early years of the station assembly in order to provide continuing opportunities to the U.S. and international research communities to ameliorate the impact of the delay in the unavailability of the permanent research capabilities on the station."
Canizares provided a technical overview of the Origins Program. About Mission Operations and Data Analysis (MO&DA), he emphasized to the subcommittee that "it is important to remember that a level budget means something close to a 20 percent decline in buying power over the next years."
Shoemaker said NASA is spending $1.2 million annually to support a three-institution search for asteroids and comets. An estimated 1,500 asteroids larger than one kilometer in diameter revolve about the Sun on short-period, Earth-crossing orbits. Only about seven percent, or 100 of these Earth-crossing asteroids, have been discovered. At the current rate of spending, about 20 new one-kilometer diameter asteroids are discovered annually. It will take some 20 to 30 years to locate some 90 percent of the one-kilometer sized asteroids that could potentially strike the Earth. Shoemaker recommended increasing NASA support of the joint search effort to $1.7 million annually in order to reduce to 10 years the time needed to locate 90 percent of the one-kilometer asteroids.
Pellis discussed advances in NASA's bioreactor, a slowly rotating horizontal cylinder that is filled with liquid and nutrients to keep cells suspended so they will develop into three-dimensional masses. The technology is advancing the growing of human tissues for transplantation, vaccine development, space cell biology, and the investigation of viruses and strategies to treat cancers. Dr. Edgerton talked about research in microgravity relating to nerve cell regeneration.
Cong. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) said "space science has become a stellar performer." Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) inquired about the transfer of $462 million from the Life and Microgravity program over a three-year period to help construct the space station. Nicogossian said he hoped the money would be repaid beginning in 2001. As a result of the diversion, Canizares said "key microgravity research facilities such as the furnace, combustion and fluid science facilities that were to have been launched and put into operation in 2000 will now be delayed until 2002. Gravitational biology habitat facilities will slip from 1999 to 2001, and the life sciences centrifuge will be delayed until at least the end of 2002."
Cong. Dave Weldon (R-FL) followed up on yesterday's hearing and asked panel members whether or not Dr. Park, who testified yesterday before the subcommittee, was correct that all the research now contemplated by the microgravity program could be accomplished by robotic spacecraft. Dr. Pellis said human involvement was very valuable to biotechnology research because they have the ability to assess experiments and make modifications to enhance results.
Unfortunately, many major questions were not asked by subcommittee members. On the front page of The Washington Post this morning there was an excellent article on Europa. Not one member inquired about the discovery of oceans of water on Jupiter's moon and how NASA could validate the data gathered by the Galileo spacecraft.
The Administration proposes to cut NASA in FY 1998 by $500 million when adjustments are made for inflation, and not one subcommittee member sought to ask about the consequence of the budget rollback.
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