Volume 2, No. 5 March 24, 1998
Representative Jerry Lewis (R-CA), chairman, and other members grilled NASA Administrator Daniel Goldin for several hours on the space station's assembly schedule, contingency plans, and rising costs. House members are worried about additional cost overruns and the possibility of further delays triggered by Russian footdragging on key components.
ISS cost overruns now total some $900 million, or about five percent of the overall budget, according to Goldin. Other unanticipated expenses include $250 million for the Interim Control Module (contingency hardware as insurance against additional Russian delays), and $670 million to develop the X-38 Crew Return Vehicle (CRV). Goldin emphasized to the subcommittee members that all of the cost growth in the station program, with the exception of the $100 million in new spending for FY 1998, will be handled within NASA by absorbing costs through efficiency gains and prioritizing programs.
To date, more than 368,000 pounds of flight hardware have been produced. By the end of the year, this amount is expected to nearly double. When completed in December of 2003, the space station will exceed one million pounds.
Goldin said "the next few months are critical for the ISS program." There are numerous technical milestones. By mid-May, NASA will make a final decision on the launch dates for the FGB (first element of the station) and Node 1, and whether or not to initiate backup plans. While the FGB is scheduled for launch in late June, and the Node 1 in July, these dates may slip. NASA anticipates "additional delays" in the construction of the Service Module, which already is two to three months behind schedule. According to Goldin, NASA can absorb a four-month delay before major problems occur.
If Russia can finish the Service Module on time, the Interim Control Module (ICM) will not be needed as a short-term substitute. In this case, NASA plans to modify the ICM so it can be used as a back up if Russia at a later time fails to launch a Progress supply vehicle. Russia is obligated to provide 43 Progress and Soyuz deliveries to the space station during construction. Goldin said Russia will reach an "operational overload" if it tries to support both the ISS and the continued operation of the Mir. Russia is now preparing a de-orbiting plan, which it hopes to complete by July. NASA is recommending that Mir be de-orbited in mid-1999, a process that would take ten months.
Vice President Gore is conferring with Russian officials about its funding requirements for the station. Former Prime Minister Chernomyrdin recently stated it will meet its financial commitments. Goldin announced that $20 million from the previously unfunded $79.5 million in 1997 funds was being made available the week of March 9. The remaining amount supposedly will be transferred by mid April.
At the hearing, Lewis focused his opening remarks on Russia's performance -- or lack thereof -- regarding the space station. He said he was "disconcerted" with Russia, which has "failed to deliver" its end of the bargain. "A deal is a deal," Lewis emphasized. Ranking Member Louis Stokes (D-OH) did not prepare an opening statement but said he "concurred" with Lewis. Later in the hearing, Stokes expressed concern that science programs may suffer as a result of the ISS cost overruns. In response, Goldin pointed out that NASA is increasing its support for space science -- not cutting programs -- even while the agency's overall budget is declining and it is absorbing the cost overruns. Other highlights from Goldin's testimony include:
Funding for the station's research program is less than anticipated for FY 1999 due to a revised time line for assembly of the facility;
Most of the research aboard the station until late 2001 will focus on small- scale experiments;
The shuttle middeck locker capability will be increased from four to 17 lockers beginning with Utilization Flight-3;
NASA has scheduled two shuttle flights for microgravity research, one in October of 1998 and another in May of 2000. There also will be "four additional flight options" to ensure "continued access to flight research during ISS assembly," as well as "development of stand-by research missions and payloads that will fly on an ‘available' basis during assembly."
Senate Commerce Committee Mark-up
While House members examined the nuts-and-bolts of the space station program, the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee passed and sent to the floor the NASA Authorization bill and the Commercial Space Act. An amendment, sponsored by Senator McCain (R-AZ) and Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), was attached to the authorization bill. It caps total funding for the space station at $21.9 billion and limits launch costs to $17.7 billion. NASA already has spent $11.2 billion on the station since 1994 and from FY 1999 through FY 2004 is scheduled to expend another $9.9 billion.
About the NSS Capital Capsule
The Capsule is a timely report of highlights from Capitol Hill hearings and other events involving space issues. Prepared by NSS staff or volunteers who attend in person, the Capsule provides NSS members and activists an "insider's" look into the thoughts of our national elected officials on space issues.
The National Space Society is an independent, nonprofit space advocacy group with headquarters in Washington, DC. Its 23,000 members and 90 chapters actively promote the creation of a spacefaring civilization.