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Volume 2, No. 13                September 23, 1998
September 11 House Science Committee Hearing
"NASA's Earth Science Program"

NASA's Earth Science Enterprise, which has suffered numerous setbacks this year, was the subject of an oversight hearing (9/10/98) by the Science Subcommittee on Space & Aeronautics. Subcommittee Chairman Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) chided NASA for failing to deliver on many of its promises. The launch of Landsat-7 has been rescheduled for March of 1999. The Earth Observing System (EOS) AM-1 satellite, which had been slated for launch in June of 1998, won't be ready until June of next year. And there continues to be a large uncosted carrryover budget for Earth Science. In spite of this fact, the Senate Appropriations Committee proposes to increase spending for Space Science in FY 1999 by $25 million, while the House bill cuts its budget by $60 million. Following is testimony provided to the subcommittee:

Dr. Ghassem Asrar, NASA Assoc. Administrator for Earth Science

Dr. Asrar tried to put the best face possible on NASA's Earth Science programs. Still, he acknowledged that NASA is "experiencing schedule problems in the testing phase of two key missions, and continuing problems with [its] data information system." The turnover rate for qualified programmers working on the EOS data information system exceeds 35 percent. Delay in the Landsat-7 program was caused by a failure in the power supply system for the Enhanced Thematic Mapper Plus instrument.

According to Asrar, the uncosted carryover budget for Earth Science in FY 1998 will be $550 million, compared to $765 million in FY 1996. NASA hopes to reduce this amount by $150 million next fiscal year. NASA's target for uncosted carryover funds is $350-$400 million.

NASA plans to award five contracts by the end of the month for Phase II of its program to purchase scientific data. Asrar said NASA intends "to routinely include the commercial data buys as part of [its] science solicitations."

Robert Winokur, NOAA Assist. Administrator for Satellite & Information Services
Mr. Winokur discussed NOAA's programs to manage global environmental data. There are three National Data Centers in the U.S. which handle some "1,300 data bases, containing over 2,400 environmental variables, totaling 535,000 tapes, 375 million film records, and 140 million paper records." Winokur said "a plan is being developed and will be assessed to potentially transfer responsibility from NASA to NOAA for long-term archiving of atmospheric and oceanographic data gathered from the EOS satellites."
Dr. Patrick O'Connell, Raytheon Vice Pres. of Enterprise Management Systems
In 1997, Raytheon merged with Hughes Electronics and became the prime contractor for development of the EOS data and information system. O'Connell said it "is one of the largest and most sophisticated civil data management projects undertaken by the federal government." The lines of computer code, he explained, were severely underestimated and "have increased from 450,000 to approximately 1.1 million lines of code to date."

An earlier delay was triggered in the program by changes in its architecture following a National Research Council panel review, which recommended a "more complex system design to meet science community desires for a more decentralized system." More recently, O'Connell said, "many engineers and programmers are leaving at an annual rate exceeding 35 percent for higher salaries and other career considerations."

Courtney Stadd, President of PixSell Data Brokers
The most pervasive and unfair competition faced by the remote sensing industry, according to Mr. Stadd, comes from civil and national security agencies, including government supported institutions, particularly universities. "This problem appears to be getting worse, not better," Stadd warned, "as evidenced by several recent federal pronouncements and initiatives to "dump hundreds of millions of dollars of government data on the market at below-market prices."

Stadd praised NASA for progress in purchasing scientific data. The commercial data buy program, he said, "is already proving to be a pathfinding model for forging a critical partnership between the commercial suppliers of remote sensing data and the researchers and scientists in NASA and other agencies...."

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 20,000 members and 75 chapters actively promote the creation of a spacefaring civilization.

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