Volume 3, No. 3 February 26, 1999
Fireworks over the International Space Station in the House Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee have substantially diminished since last year. At today's hearing (2/25/99) to examine the Administration's FY 2000 budget for NASA's Human Space Flight, nary a discouraging word by comparison was voiced about Russia and the station.
A year ago, Congressman James Sensenbrenner (R-WI), the Science Committee Chairman, made a special point to attend subcommittee hearings on the space station to blast the Administration for failing to provide the needed leadership to solve problems caused by Russia's nonperformance in building critical components.
Since last year's hearings, Russia and NASA have launched the initial elements of the station, NASA is implementing a strategy to keep Russia out of the critical path, and the Administration has added $1.4 billion to the space agency's budget over then next five years. Taken together, the actions have shifted the political dynamics of the ISS. Congress is now more relaxed about the project and confident that Administrator Goldin is doing a good job managing the remaining problems.
Looking at the overall Human Space Flight program, Subcommittee Chairman Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) said we "can't do all that much more right now." NASA's first priority has to be the completion of the station. Following are some of the major points addressed by the witnesses
Joseph Rothenberg -- Associate Administrator for Human Space Flight
The ISS is "beyond paper," Mr. Rothenberg exclaimed at the hearing. In five years, he said NASA plans "to complete development of the International Space Station." He pledged to members of the Subcommittee that the space agency "will stay on the road to commercializing space operations, including space transportation, space communications, and the International Space Station."
Richard Blomberg --Chair, Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel
Mr. Blomberg told the Subcommittee members "the Panel is pleased with both the priority given to safety by NASA and its contractors and the current safety- related activities in the Space Shuttle and International Space Station program." He recounted the Panel's separate findings and recommendations from its annual report, one of which concerns spares support for the Space Shuttle. Repair turnaround times for the shuttle fleet, he said, "have shown indications of rising and the problem will become more severe as the flight rate increases." Mr. Blomberg recommended NASA "refocus on adequate acquisition of spares" to maintain shuttle fleet reliability.
Dr. James Richardson, Vice President for Research, Potomac Institute for Policy Studies
The Potomac Institute completed a NASA-funded study a couple years ago on commercializing the ISS. For the hearing, Dr. Richardson summarized some of the major findings. The most far-reaching recommendation is the formation of an "in-house Commercial Development Office to serve as a focal point and to advocate commercialization within NASA." Secondly, the Potomac Institute called for the creation of a Space Economic Development Corporation, a public/private partnership "to take over some of the functions of commercialization and, eventually, most of the commercialization within NASA."
Marcia Smith -- Congressional Research Service (CRS)
Ms. Smith's testimony focused on the increased costs for the ISS, legislation and policies affecting delays and costs, and space station commercialization. According to Ms. Smith, "NASA's space station cost estimate has risen from $17.4 billion to as much as $26 billion." The estimated cost for developing and procuring 4 Crew Return Vehicles (CRV) to hold 6-7 astronauts has risen from $792 million in 1998 to $104 billion. And the cost overrun at Boeing, the prime contractor, is now estimated at $828 million.
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 75 chapters actively promote the creation of a spacefaring civilization.