Volume 2, No. 8 May 8, 1998
In the International Space Station (ISS) program, America's partnership with Russia is like a marriage falling apart. First, there is anger, then denial, and finally resignation. Until Wednesday's (May 6) Science Committee hearing, the prevailing mood on Capitol Hill was denial about Russian problems in building elements of the ISS. But it appears there has been a shift. A majority of committee members now seems resigned to the fact that Russia will be unable to meet its commitments. They are eager to find a solution to get the project back on track.
NASA Administrator Daniel S. Goldin; Jay Chabrow, chair of the recent report on the ISS; and Duncan Moore, from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, testified before the standing-room-only hearing. OMB Director Franklin Raines declined an invitation to appear before the Committee. Lt. General Thomas Stafford did not testify due to illness.
In his opening remarks, Science Committee James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) urged members to get the ISS "on the road to recovery." "Let's admit we have a problem," he said. "And let's take action to recover lost time and costs."
Congressman George Brown (D-CA), the ranking committee member, echoed Sensenbrenner's remarks and said he is "troubled by the continued failure of the Russian government to adequately fund Russia's contributions to the station...." It is "no longer appropriate," he said, "to say the Russians are going to meet their commitments." It is time to "confront realities," to "get down to the nitty gritty" and fix the problems.
Chabrow commended NASA for making "notable progress over the last four years" on the ISS program. He said, "Nearly half of the total U.S. flight hardware has been built and is in integration and testing, with over 500,000 pounds scheduled to be completed by the end of the year."
Despite the progress, Chabrow said the task force "has identified a number of critical areas with potential for increased cost growth and schedule erosion." The estimated cost of the ISS, according to the task force, will likely reach $24.7 billion and probably won't be finished before October of 2004. As a consequence, Chabrow recommended the "ISS program should plan for the development schedule to extend nominally an additional two years with additional funding requirements of between $130 and $250 million annually, throughout the assembly period and beyond."
In regard to the Russian difficulties, Chabrow said the task force "believes the most cost-effective approach is to continue forward with Russian development plans while allocating additional moneys to account for specific Russian shortfalls." An example would be to fund a "U.S. propulsion module to insure against Russian inability to deliver sufficient logistics support to the station."
Goldin said NASA is studying the Chabrow report and, at this time, is not prepared to accept the new numbers. "NASA will complete an official response to the [Chabrow] report no later than the second week of June," Goldin said. "If, when NASA has completed its review of the [Chabrow] report and has determined the overall status of Russian contributions, NASA concludes that additional resources are required for the ISS program, I will request those resources from the Administration." Goldin agreed with Committee members that "we have to have a change in course to move [the ISS program] forward," and that a "different relationship [with Russia is] a possibility."
Acording to Goldin, Russia has proposed an adjustment of the planned launch date of the Service Module to March/April of 1999. About 95 percent of the components have been installed. However, funding continues to be a problem. The Russian Space Agency (RSA) has yet to receive $44.5 million promised in 1997. The total amount required in 1998 for work on the ISS is $340 million. The RSA has received only $65 million to date, of which $8 million is dedicated to ISS funding. Most of the remaining amount is expected to be financed through off-budget funding, but details "have not yet been determined."
In testimony provided to the Committee, OMB Director Raines said the "Administration is committed to building the space station..." "If additional resources are needed for station development," he said, "we will look for offsets within NASA while protecting our priorities in space and earth science, advanced space transportation, and aviation safety research." Specifically, he said the OMB "will look for offsets first from within the $6 billion spent annually on human space flight, as long as it does not compromise Shuttle safety, and second from other non-priority areas." Additionally, reductions in other station activities "such as operations, research, and later assembly hardware, may be necessary."
To reduce ISS expenses, Congressman Rohrabacher (R-CA) said an option "is to privatize and commercialize the U.S. portion of the space station as much as possible and as quickly as possible." "We must allow and encourage private enterprise to play a greater role in the station's development, operation, and usage, and we need to do this right away," the California representative emphasized.New Members
There are three new Democrats on the Science Committee: Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA) who replaced Ron Delleums; Congresswoman Lois Capps (D-CA), a member of the Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee who replaced her deceased husband, Walter Capps; and Congresswoman Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), elected in 1996.
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.