|01 May 1997
Testimony of Mr. David Brandt, Executive Director of the National Space Society, for the Appropriations Subcommittee on VA-HUD-IA, U.S. House of Representatives
|May 1, 1997
Chairman Lewis and members of the Subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to present the views of the National Space Society 25,000 members, as well as thousands of other space activists, on NASA's FY 1998 budget.
The National Space Society is an independent, space advocacy organization founded over 20 years ago. Our membership is quite diverse, including engineers, educators, doctors, police officers, students, scientists, authors, astronauts and many others. But while we have many different interests, we are united in our support for the creation of a spacefaring civilization living and working in communities beyond Earth.
As an independent organization, we are not bound to support the goals of NASA. Rather, we speak out on programs and funding issues as they relate to our membership's agenda. By working together, we seek to open outer space as the next frontier for commerce and ultimately settlement. And it's against this touchstone that our policies and budgetary issues are weighed.
The Public Recognizes the Value of NASA
Funding for NASA represents a major portion of our nation's investment in science and technology. While America is rolling back support in these vital areas, global competition is rising. Last year, the White House proposed to cut NASA's budget from $13.7 billion in FY 1997 to $13.09 billion in FY 1998.
In the Administration's five-year plan, spending further decreased the following two years, then reversed direction in 2001 and climbed to $13.9 billion in 2002. After the announcement of the budget plan, the National Space Society and other space community groups warned that the proposed budget would savage NASA, forcing the cancellation of major programs and research centers.
To its credit, the Administration revised its numbers upward and now proposes to spend $13.5 billion in 1998 -- still a $500 million decrease from current spending when adjustments are made for inflation. After the new figures were announced in February of this year, some suggested NASA was out of the woods, that its financial difficulties had been resolved. But this is not the case. Costs continue to rise as funding declines.
Members of the National Space Society are deeply worried about the continued slide in spending for NASA. We are concerned about our nation's ability to meet tomorrow's challenges. Space excites our spirit, and pushing into the space frontier generates new knowledge and innovations. In a weightless environment, scientists can conduct research to learn about many phenomena and processes that remain hidden on Earth due to the influence of gravity. As a nation, we cannot afford to turn our back on NASA and exploration. Americans care about our space program and its continued vitality.
Let me share with you the views of some of our members from letters they recently sent to Capitol Hill. The first is from a 24-year-old resident from Saginaw, Michigan, who just graduated in electrical engineering: He writes:
"Since I watched the first Shuttle launch back in 1981, I have dreamed of becoming an astronaut ... I have given several presentations to elementary school classes about our space program. It is so fascinating to see how interested today's kids are in space exploration, but also sad when they ask why we are not going to Mars or doing more. Please help them and the entire nation by stabilizing NASA's budget."
A 45-year-old resident from San Jose, California talks about the importance of exploration. He writes:
"[O]ur nation should not only be at the forefront of space exploration, it should have a commanding lead. Americans have always been explorers. If we fail to meet the challenges of tomorrow, we shall truly look back at ourselves and ask why we didn't do that yesterday. Please do not cut the funding for our space program. If anything should be done at all, funding for NASA should be increased. Thank you for letting me express my opinion."
A 61-year-old programmer-analyst explains that our nation invests too little in scientific research and development. He explains:
"I believe that NASA funding should be maintained at the current level of spending ... for the following reasons: 1) It has already been cut, contributing its fair share to balancing the budget; 2) It is a long-term investment in the future. (Think where we would be now without the past achievements of the space program.), and; 3) It is central, both symbolically and materially, to this country's commitment to leadership in science and technology and therefore to our economic health. I thank you for your support in this matter."
An enthusiastic 14-year-old girl says in a letter:
"I have been told that you are going to cut some of NASA's budget. That is totally unacceptable. You are probably thinking why do we need space travel, especially manned, and why can't we spend the money down here on Earth to make things better. I will tell you why you can't cut, and [why we] need to expand NASA's budget. Many of the products that both yourself and I use everyday have been developed from the space program. For example, Velcro was developed through the space program. Another thing ... automobiles and mobile vehicles that can be controlled by the handicapped. Here are some more ... a new window into the human body (MRI), weather forecasting, a more improved breathing system for fire fighters. Better water recycling systems ... laser heart surgery and new flame resistant materials. ... I see no reason why we should spend money on other programs, where there will be a very minimal improvement and very slow improvement while NASA will have an immediate effect on the future."
A 33-year-old aircraft technician from Kinde, Michigan writes:
"I see the parallels between the lack of interest in early aviation and the lack of interest in the space program. If aviation had not been accepted and promoted in this country, we would not have the world economic and political standing that we have now. If the space program is not supported as well, our future standing will be in jeopardy. Independent corporate exploration needs to be involved. Until such a time that it is, the nation as represented by the federal government must keep the space program alive to pave the way for future generations to continue on the traditions of exploration and world leadership that have made America what it is today."
NASA Stabilization Brings Achievement in Transportation, Science and Commerce
As you can tell from these statements, the space frontier is important to the lives of many Americans. Members of the National Space Society believe NASA's budget must be stabilized. The House of Representatives recently passed the Civilian Space Authorization Act, which increases spending for NASA from $13.7 billion in FY 1997 to $13.8 billion in FY 1998. The following year, the agency's budget is set at $13.9 billion.
These higher spending levels still do not stabilize the space agency's budget, but they are a step in the right direction. Our membership strongly urges the Appropriations Subcommittee on VA-HUD-IA to follow the lead of the House and fund NASA at the full authorization level. The additional resources will be used to promote the development of space transportation, possibly the most critical and far-reaching program at NASA.
Space transportation lies at the core of the biggest challenge to space development -- lowering the cost of access to space. To achieve this goal, NASA is investing in advanced technologies in propulsion, thermal protection systems, avionics and light-weight composite structures. To validate these new technologies, NASA is building and testing experimental launch vehicles. One such vehicle is called the X-33, a half-scale test vehicle that would pave the way for a new generation of spacecraft that are cheaper to operate, safer, more reliable and easier to maintain.
A fully reusable launch vehicle holds the promise of reducing space transportation costs from $10,000 per pound to one-tenth this level. But we cannot be content to build only one X-vehicle. Reducing the cost of space transportation must be an ongoing effort. To accomplish this feat, the space agency must have the resources to continually develop new technologies that can be validated by additional test vehicles. It is time for us to apply the strategy of core-level funding already used to great success in aeronautics, to space transportation.
Our membership is also fully supportive of the International Space Station. While the station exists for science, it also exists as the only legitimate way to test the effects of long duration space living on humans. Scientists need access to space in a way that allows them to learn how humans biologically adjust to weightlessness and to develop the countermeasures needed to offset those debilitating health problems.
Despite the shortcomings of the current situation with Russia, the National Space Society strongly believes the U.S. should continue to keep Russia involved in the space station. In the meantime, we support the amendment attached to the House authorization bill requiring NASA to "develop a contingency plan with decision points for removing each element of Russian hardware in the critical path."
And all of these technologies inevitably open the door to space commerce. Opponents of the space station claim there is little commercial interest in space research. But this is not true. Many companies have invested substantial sums to investigate how space can be used as a tool to enhance their competitiveness and to produce better products on Earth.
New drugs benefiting from space research are now in clinical trials and are expected to come to market in 1998. Included are therapies to treat arthritis, skin cancer, flu and diabetes.
We have witnessed how, during the past five years, NASA has restructured itself from top to bottom. The agency is now poised to soar into the next century. The National Space Society urges members of the Appropriations Committee to look beyond the horizon, to invest in our nation's future by supporting NASA.
Allocating funds and setting priorities at NASA can be an arduous process. There are many worthwhile programs that compete for financial support. To determine the most important projects in descending order, the National Space Society conducted a survey among its membership that I would like to share with the Subcommittee.
We established a hypothetical situation in which NSS members were asked to imagine they were members of Congress and had $100 to spend on NASA. Their job was to allocate the funding to programs based on their own priorities. The NSS tabulated the results, which are provided below:
$14.38 - International Space Station;
The survey indicates a broad base of support for the space station and the development of space transportation, which the Administration and Congress also advocate. But where the public's wishes and current government policy part is in a national commitment to returning humans to the Moon and sending them for the first time to Mars. Under the Clinton Administration, planning and research for such missions have been reduced to a crawl. Policy makers are hesitant to support such activities until costs can be reduced dramatically. But this goal cannot be achieved unless we adequately fund research and development programs.
To this end, the National Space Society urges members of the Subcommittee to fully support the development of advanced technologies for exploration. By investing now in research, we can achieve our dreams and affordably send humans to the Moon to establish a permanent outpost. And we can set the stage for a series of international human missions to Mars early in the next century.
NASA deserves the full support of Congress. The agency has already begun launching a series of low-cost, robotic probes each year to explore our solar system, including craft to investigate Mars. More than 162,000 pounds of flight hardware for the space station have been manufactured, representing 56 percent of the planned program. After the station has been assembled in orbit, we will be able to conduct experiments to learn how to keep humans healthy in space over long periods of time. And the station will inaugurate a new era in space commerce. By increasing our investment in space transportation, America can enhance its research and development efforts to lower costs to travel to space, as well as increase safety and reliability.
If the Administration succeeds in cutting NASA's budget in each of the next five years as now proposed ($2 billion when adjustments made for inflation), America's space agency will begin to lose its vigor. Our nation's competitive edge will dull. Alternatively, if NASA's budget can be stabilized, and it is allowed to reinvest savings in new programs, a dynamic future of exploration and commercial development will become a reality.
America's spirit will take flight, as will our dreams and hopes.