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Volume 2, No. 16                October 8, 1998
October 7, House Committee on Science Hearing
"The Administration's Proposed Bail-Out for Russia"

In the waning days of the 105th Congress, the House Science Committee held a hearing to examine NASA's request to transfer $60 million immediately to the Russian Space Agency (RSA) so it can complete work on the Service Module and purchase long-lead items for Soyuz and Progress vehicles. In return, cosmonauts would conduct U.S. space experiments during assembly of the International Space Station -- effectively doubling research crew time -- and the U.S. would gain additional stowage space to enhance research activities.

In his opening statement, Science Chairman James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) once again hammered the Clinton Administration for failing to adequately deal with Russia's shortcomings on the space station. "Instead of a solution," Sensenbrenner argued, "the Administration is asking for a blank check."

The Wisconsin chairman said the "White House does not want to admit that its management of our relationship with Russia is fundamentally flawed." He emphasized that the "Administration needs to take the Russian government out of the critical path -- now." If it fails to do this soon, Sensenbrenner announced he would work with other members of the Science Committee to draft legislation to accomplish this goal.

Sensenbrenner also thrashed NASA and the Administration for "lobbying the Senate to oppose the NASA Authorization bill in order to escape accountability." This action, he explained, thwarts the "desire of the American people to have accountability and sound management in government." Sensenbrenner warned the lobbying effort is "treading on dangerously thin ice."

Ranking Member George Brown (D-CA) said chastising the Administration for putting Russia on the critical path of the space station assembly might be "psychically satisfying and provide an opportunity for scoring rhetorical point," but does little to address the pressing matters at hand.

Six witnesses were invited to testify at the hearing. OMB Director Jacob Lew and Deputy Secretary of State Stobe Talbott could not appear due to other pressing matters. The testimony of the other four witnesses follows:

Daniel Goldin, NASA Administrator

NASA is "trying to smartly keep Russia off the critical path," but to accomplish this goal it needs additional resources, according to Mr. Goldin. He urged committee members to boost the funding for the ISS. The exact amount required has not been determined, although NASA estimates it will likely be about $150 million per year for additional procurements of Russian hardware or capabilities as a "contingency to preclude significant schedule deterioration."

NASA is looking to implement other backup protections. "Development of a U.S. propulsion module, coupled with the ESA Ariane Transfer Vehicle (ATV) and Japanese HTV," Goldin explained, "would provide complete replacement of Russian vehicles for ISS attitude, control, reboost, and resupply, if required." Goldin announced that NASA will fly an additional space shuttle mission in FY 2000 to conduct research and is "studying the potential for two additional dedicated research space shuttle missions."

Jay Chabrow, President of JMR Associates
"Since May, not a single ruble has flowed from the Russian government to RSA," Mr. Chabrow noted. He termed the $60 million to bailout Russia an "aspirin" that is needed to cure an "immediate headache." But he cautioned committee members that "precautions should be taken to assure that in the process that this doesn't turn into a migraine for the U.S."

Chabrow said he agreed with NASA's approach to buy down the risk caused by Russia's nonperformance "because of the negative consequence of doing otherwise." Without the near-term participation of Russia, costs would be considerably higher than what is now contemplated.

Chabrow emphasized his deep concern that "NASA has not moved forward and initiated the procurement of long lead items for a propulsion module." He said "It is imperative that NASA expedite this development activity."

In addition to Russia's difficulties, Chabrow said "the U.S. laboratory and other elements have continued to incur schedule erosion, the de-staffing plan has not been met, the prime contract cost has continued to grow, and multi- element testing is being pushed out by software and hardware problems."

Judyth Twigg, Assistant Professor of Virginia Commonwealth University
The prospects for Russian space funding are "not bright," Ms. Twigg warned. "Belts are being tightened in Russia's budget sector more than ever before," she said. The "bulk of scarce government funding has gone to current operations likely to attract foreign cash, such as commercial launch activity," and future priorities for spending, she explained, are "unlikely to include the International Space Station."

Russia's space industry is decaying, according to Twigg, and "even a substantial infusion of new funding could not renew previous levels of activity in the short or medium term." From its peak in 1990, employment in Russia's space sector is down by almost 50 percent. "The youngest, most energetic and creative members of the space industrial workforce have joined the more lucrative commercial or financial sectors," she said. Wage in the space production sector now are only three-quarters of Russian's national average.

"Russia is very close to becoming nothing but a contractor for other countries' space programs," Twigg noted. Looking to the future, she cautioned "it will become increasingly difficult for Russia to meet its obligations even to paying customers or to partners in international cooperative space endeavors."

James Oberg, Aerospace Consultant
Mr. Oberg questioned Russia's ability to meet its obligations even if the U.S. provides additional resources. He accused NASA of overestimating Russia's capacity to honor its contracts and said continuing to rely on Russia to build critical elements is the "longest Hail Mary pass in history."

Russian officials, Oberg said, are attempting to maintain Mir instead of deorbiting the facility next summer, as now planned. He said it is inaccurate that the Service Module is 98 percent complete and suggested that there is "launch fever" to place the initial ISS elements in orbit later this year.

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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