Vol. 4, No. 2 March 20, 2000
TWO HOUSE HEARINGS FOCUS ON NASA'S BUDGET
Congressman James Walsh (R-NY), Chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Veterans Affairs, HUD and Independent Agencies, announced at A hearing on Wednesday (3/15/00) that he is not optimistic about the Administration's FY 2001 budget for NASA, which proposes to boost spending From $13.6 billion to $14 billion, the first increase since President Clinton Was elected. He warned about this year's budget process: "Everyone should prepare for a bumpy ride".
Congressman Mollohan (D-WV), the ranking subcommittee member, Expressed hope Congress can provide the proposed funding increase for NASA. But it may not be possible, he explained, because the House is looking to pass a budget resolution for FY 2001 that makes available less funding for discretionary, non-defense programs than last year. If Congress does not receive the additional resources, NASA's space transportation program will likely suffer the most, according to Administrator Goldin, who testified at the hearing. Shuttle safety is the NASA's top priority, followed by the assembly of the International Space Station. These programs would be protected, but there would not be enough funding in the budget to also support the proposed increase in spending for space transportation, Goldin said.
The tough rhetoric by the House members should not cause alarm. It is early in the budget process and Republicans and Democrats are establishing bargaining positions. The President and fellow Congressional Democrats want to use the federal surplus to substantially expand government spending. Republicans, on the other hand, hope to minimize new federal spending and use the surplus for tax cuts and to reduce the national debt. The Republicans are taking a tough stand on the President's budget proposal knowing they will later have to compromise. Because it is an election year and NASA has broad, bipartisan support in Congress, at the end of the day the space agency is likely to receive the proposed boost in spending. Space & Aeronautics Hearing
At the Space & Aeronautics hearing on NASA's human space flight budget for FY 2001, Subcommittee Chairman Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) said we have "turned the corner" on spending for the space station and its budgets from here on out declines. With more than 90 percent of the ISS now built, attention is shifting to the assembly process. In FY 2001, NASA is scheduled to fly nine shuttle missions, seven for ISS assembly, one to service the Hubble Space Telescope and one microgravity research flight. Following are highlights from testimony presented to the Subcommittee:
Joseph Rothenberg, NASA Associate Administrator for the Office of Space Flight Russia is planning to launch the Service Module July 8-14. If additional problems arise and the module remains earth bound, the U.S. is prepared to launch the Interim Control Module (ICM) in December. Assuming the ISS assembly remains on schedule, a permanent crew will board the station by the end of the year. Research will begin in early 2001, following the launch of the U.S. laboratory. Mr. Rothenberg said NASA plans to hire 500 workers at its four space flight centers. =93Five years of buyouts and downsizing, he explained, have led to serious skill imbalances and an overtaxed core workforce.
Dr. Henry McDonald, Director of Ames Research Center
Dr. McDonald presented the findings of the Independent Assessment Team that was tasked to review the Space Shuttle systems and maintenance practices, after the wiring problems were discovered last fall. The report offers a host of very detailed recommendations to improve operations, such as: A formal Aging and Surveillance Program should be instituted, The avionics repair facility should be brought up to industry standards, Inspection technique(s) for locating corrosion under the tiles and in inaccessible areas should be developed.
Ms. Roberta Gross, NASA Inspector General
Ms. Gross reported on areas of concern in the human space flight office. Cost overruns at Boeing, she announced, have increased from $783 million to $986 million as a result of recent reorganization activities. chastised Boeing for earlier reporting unrealistically low estimates of projected cost overruns to NASA management. While Boeing is charging NASA $82 million for reorganization costs, Ms. Gross said it is providing a net savings to its military and commercial groups because of the reorganization.
Ms. Gross said NASA's development of the Crew Return Vehicle (CRV) "entails significant risk." The project, she explained, is relying on a high degree of concurrency among design, development, and test and engineering/evaluation activities and a highly optimistic schedule for accomplishing development and production of the CRV.
Ms. Gross said NASA has yet to complete a full-cost accounting of the Space Shuttle costs and is understating the real cost by "about $3 billion" per year.
Mr. Allen Li, Associate Director, General Accounting Office
Concern about the space station, Mr. Li said, is shifting from cost issues to safety issues. "The Service Module does not meet space station requirements for protection against penetration from orbital debris," Mr. Li said. A penetration "could harm the crew and cause a loss of the space station." Russia is planning to upgrade the shielding in 2004. The shielding cannot be installed prior to launch "because they would make the Service Module too heavy to lift into orbit."
Additionally, the noise levels on Zarya and the Service Module exceed specifications. "NASA states that noise levels should not exceed an average of 55 decibels over a 24-hour period", Li said. However, the Service Module will be in the 70- to 75-decibel noise range. By comparison, the noise level on the Mir space station is 59 to 72 decibels. Li said. study of 50 Mir cosmonauts showed that virtually all suffered temporary hearing damage, and some had permanent damage that disqualified them from future space flights. A U.S. astronaut aboard the Mir also suffered significant temporary hearing loss.
To lower the noise level, the Russian space agency agreed to a plan calling for hearing protection equipment, mufflers, barriers, isolators and quieter fans. However, it does not have funding to implement the plan. There is also a concern that wearing hearing protection devices could affect the crew's ability to hear caution and warning signals and to communicate with each other.
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