Hall Objects to Tourists During Space Station Assembly
Today, the Honorable Ralph M. Hall (D-TX) sent a letter to NASA Administrator Dan Goldin indicating Hall's strong objection to the flight of a "space tourist" to the International Space Station during its assembly phase. Hall's letter was occasioned by reports that a private citizen might buy his way onto a Space Station mission with a cash payment of $20 million. Hall has asked that NASA provide information regarding whether a meeting of the ISS Board had considered this matter and what position NASA had or would take on the proposal. The text of the letter to Administrator Goldin follows.
February 6, 2001
The Honorable Dan Goldin
National Aeronautics and Space Administration
Washington, D.C. 20546
Dear Mr. Goldin:
I am disturbed by recent press reports that indicate that NASA is giving serious consideration to allowing a flight to the partially assembled International Space Station of a would-be "space tourist," Mr. Dennis Tito. I am aware that you have received a letter from Mr. Yuri Koptev, the head of the Russian Aviation and Space Agency regarding the possibility of such a flight later this year.
As I understand it, such a flight would first have to be approved by the appropriate International Space Station multilateral board, of which NASA is a member. Has a meeting of the board to consider the Russian proposal yet taken place? If so, what was NASA's position? If not, has a meeting been scheduled, and what position do you intend to take when the board does meet?
Let me be clear about my position on this issue. I am strongly opposed to the flight of any "space tourists" to the International Space Station during its assembly phase. I would note that my opposition to flying Mr. Tito is not based on the fact that the Russian government would be receiving a cash payment for the flight. Rather, I cannot justify putting at risk a Space Station that is being built with tens of billions of taxpayer dollars so that a private citizen can fulfill his personal desire to fly into space. As you no doubt would agree, the assembly of the International Space Station will be an extremely challenging undertaking with significant risks to both the crew and the Station in the event of an unforeseen contingency. This critical period is not the time for distractions or visits by any but trained astronauts who have specific tasks to fulfill.
Moreover, I believe that such visits would represent a serious misallocation of resources. The U.S. Laboratory Module Destiny is scheduled to be launched in the near future. With its arrival, the International Space Station will be able to support the important research that I believe to be a cornerstone of its mission. NASA has in the past made much of the limitations on crew time, consumables, and habitable volume that will occur during the assembly phase. If now there truly are sufficient on-board resources available to support a "tourist" visitor during the Station's assembly period, then those resources should instead be used to support the flight of a trained scientist who can directly contribute to meeting the research goals of the Station.
Space tourism may well develop in the coming years if we are able to reduce the cost and increase the reliability of commercial space transportation systems. The Russians would have had every right to send tourists to the Mir space station if they so chose. Even tourist visits to the International Space Station or a privately-owned successor might make sense at some point in the future; we do not have to decide that question at this time. We do, however, have an obligation to the American taxpayers to ensure that the International Space Station is not jeopardized during its assembly or its resources misallocated.
RALPH M. HALL
Ranking Democratic Member