The Future of NASA
Opening Statement By Hon. Bart Gordon
Good morning. I want to join the Chairman in welcoming Dr. Griffin to today’s hearing. Although Dr. Griffin has testified before this Committee on previous occasions, this will be the first time we will have a chance to hear from him in his capacity as NASA Administrator.
Dr. Griffin, you come to the job of Administrator with impressive technical credentials and a wealth of experience. I want to wish you well, and I look forward to working with you to ensure that the United States maintains a strong and robust civil space and aeronautics program.
I count myself among the supporters of the exploration initiative - I believe that the long-term goals for the human space flight program proposed by the President make sense. At the same time, I must say that I am concerned about where NASA is headed, and about the large number of unanswered questions that remain almost 18 months after the President announced his exploration initiative.
Let me elaborate for a minute on some of those unanswered questions. For example, what is the overall architecture for achieving the President’s exploration goals - that is, where are we going, how are we going to get there, what will we do when we get there, and how long will it take and how much will it cost?
Last year, we were told that there was a rigorous process underway involving 11 Concept Exploration and Refinement teams from industry and academia working with NASA to answer those questions. Now we are being told that that process is no longer relevant - instead, a small internal NASA team has been tasked with coming up with an exploration architecture by sometime in July.
Another set of questions: What is the Crew Exploration Vehicle going to do, how are we going to acquire it, and what will it cost? Last year, we were told that there was a rigorous process to develop a "System of Systems" concept for the CEV and associated launch vehicles, incorporating a "spiral development" acquisition approach.
Now we are being told that the planned CEV acquisition approach is no longer relevant, and that a new approach is being taken in order to accelerate the CEV - but that there "is no way to know" at this point how much it will cost to accomplish that accelerated program.
What is the International Space Station going to be used for, and what is it going to look like? Last year, we were told that the International Space Station research program was being restructured to more closely align it with the exploration initiative - and that Congress would be given that restructured plan last fall.
Now we are being told that the entire ISS program content is once again being restructured, and that it will be later this summer before we know what the new plans are. And we hear that our International Partners are very concerned about the impact on their plans of NASA’s latest restructuring.
What is the priority of nuclear power and propulsion systems in the President’s exploration initiative? For the last several years, we were told that the most appropriate demonstration of Project Prometheus’s space nuclear technologies would be a scientific probe to Jupiter’s moons, the so-called JIMO mission.
Now we are being told that the JIMO mission is essentially dead, that Project Prometheus is being restructured, and that the main Project Prometheus activity at present appears to be transferring money from NASA to DOE’s Office of Naval Reactors.
Last year, we were told that it was important to undertake a whole series of Exploration Systems Research and Technology development projects at cost of more than $700 million in FY 2005 alone.
Now we are being told that the funding for many of those proposed projects has been put on hold. I could go on, but I hope my point is clear. Almost 18 months after the President announced his exploration initiative, basic questions are still unanswered. And much of what Congress was told last year is no longer valid.
Yet in the absence of needed information, Congress is still being asked to support the exact funding levels for exploration proposed in the FY 2006 NASA budget request - almost $3.2 billion - and to cut other non-exploration programs in order to free up funds for the initiative.
That is, we are being asked to make a "faith-based" vote on NASA’s funding request.
Dr. Griffin, you have only been on the job for about two months, and you cannot be held accountable for anything that had gone on at the agency prior to your arrival. At the same time, given all the changes you have made to the Exploration program since you became NASA Administrator, it would seem that you have concluded that not all of the more than $2 billion allocated for NASA’s Exploration Systems program since January 2004 has been wisely spent.
That’s troubling, because even a $100 million of that Exploration Systems funding could make a significant difference to the health of NASA’s aeronautics program or NASA’s Earth science program.
Yet, the reality is that under the President’s plan, those other programs may increasingly become bill payers for the exploration initiative in coming years and the healthy balance that should exist between all of NASA’s core missions will be lost. That is certainly going to be the case if the Administration continues cutting NASA’s out year funding profile in the upcoming FY 2007 budget request as it did in the FY 2006 request while at the same time attempting to hold on to the President’s milestones for his exploration initiative.
Unfortunately, the results of that approach are already evident: Some 2,500 current NASA employees are at risk of losing their jobs; scientific missions are being cancelled, deferred, or cut; and NASA’s aeronautics program is on a path to becoming "irrelevant", in the words of one of the recent witnesses before this Committee.
In addition to being a waste of the human capital and infrastructure built up at NASA over the last 40 years, I believe such actions will make it increasingly difficult to sustain support for NASA’s budget in coming years as the agency’s focus is narrowed and the overall fiscal situation facing the nation worsens. I hope we can avoid such an outcome, but I think it may require a course correction within NASA and the White House if we are to succeed.
Well, we have a lot to talk about today. I again want to welcome you to this morning’s hearing, Dr. Griffin, and I look forward to your testimony.
Opening Statement By Hon. Mark Udall
Good morning and welcome, Dr. Griffin. I look forward to working with you in the months ahead, and I wish you all the best as you shoulder your new responsibilities.
While it can sound like a bit of a cliché to say that NASA is at a crossroads, I think it nonetheless is an accurate description of the current situation.
The President has given NASA a new long-term vision for its human space flight program - one that I support. At the same time, it’s not at all clear that the President’s aspirations fit the budget that has been provided to NASA.
And one result of that mismatch is that the highly productive balance that has existed between NASA’s space science, Earth science, aeronautics, and human space flight activities is at risk of being seriously damaged.
The evidence of the stresses on NASA’s non-exploration programs is all around us.
At a recent hearing before the space subcommittee, there was unanimity among all of the non-government witnesses that NASA’s aeronautics programs have been negatively impacted by the budget cuts of recent years and that the President’s proposed five-year budget for aeronautics will significantly worsen the situation.
That is one of the reasons I and a bipartisan group of cosponsors introduced H.R. 2358, the Aeronautics R&D Revitalization Act, which I would like to see incorporated into the NASA Authorization.
The situation facing NASA’s Earth-Sun Systems program is no better. The Science Committee heard compelling testimony from a panel of respected experts that bluntly concluded that the nation’s Earth observations program is at risk. And we have heard about productive missions being threatened with termination due to budgetary shortfalls.
In addition, although we have not yet had a Space Station oversight hearing, I and my staff have been hearing from the fundamental biology and microgravity research community, as well as from commercial organizations.
Their message is the same.
For more than 15 years, NASA has been telling them that there would be a place for their research on the ISS. Now however, it appears that the budgetary demands of the exploration initiative are going to cause NASA to break those long-standing commitments.
While all of this has been going on, the unfortunate fact is that 18 months after the President first announced his exploration initiative, specifics on NASA’s plans are still hard to come by. That concerns me, especially given the fact that the specifics we do have from NASA concern cuts to NASA’s non-exploration programs.
I hope that Dr. Griffin will be able to shed some light on what NASA’s plans are for both exploration and for NASA’s other core missions, as well as for its workforce. We will need that information if we are to do our oversight jobs properly, and I think enough time has passed for us to be justified in asking for specifics.
Finally, before I close, I would just like to express my appreciation to Dr. Griffin for his willingness to start preparing for a Shuttle mission to service the Hubble space telescope, contingent of course on a successful return-to-flight of the Space Shuttle.
As you know, Hubble is one of the most significant space observatories ever launched, and I believe that we should continue to utilize it to its fullest as long as it remains scientifically productive.
Mr. Chairman, today’s hearing is an important one for this Committee, and I look forward to hearing from our witness. Thank you.