Plans Remain Unclear for Maintaining Space Station Without Shuttle
NASA does not have clear plans for maintaining the International Space Station (ISS) if the Space Shuttle remains grounded for an extended period of time, a key Congressional panel learned today. The testimony came at a Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee hearing on U.S. - Russian cooperation in space.
Russia will fly Soyuz missions through the fall of 2003 to maintain operations on the ISS. However, NASA's plans after that remain vague. John Schumacher, NASA Assistant Administrator for External Relations, testified that if Russia is unable to contribute Soyuz and Progress vehicles after their current commitment, NASA planned to turn to its other international partners. Pressed further by Ranking Member Bart Gordon (D-TN), Schumacher was unable to provide specific details of how future missions might be funded, saying NASA would seek "some form of funding, either with other partner contributions or us, and we would have to come forward to you for relief on the Act [Iran Nonproliferation Act of 2000] should that ever be the case."
Gordon stated, "It's clear from today's hearing that that there are still many unanswered questions about how NASA intends to ensure that the Space Station can continue to operate next year if the Shuttle fleet is still grounded as most expect. NASA needs to step forward with some clear contingency plans."
NASA is prohibited from giving funds to Russia for ISS-related goods and services under the Iran Nonproliferation Act of 2000 unless the President makes certain nonproliferation certifications.
"We are completely reliant on the Russian Soyuz and Progress vehicles while the Space Shuttle fleet is grounded," said Rep. Nick Lampson (D-TX). "Based on today's hearing, I am even more convinced that it is prudent that we provide NASA the flexibility to purchase additional Soyuz and Progress vehicles if needed during this challenging time. That's what my bill, H.R. 1001, would do. We can't expect the other International Partners to bear the entire burden."
GORDON: "Should members of this Committee just not worry? You're going to take responsibility to say, this is going to be paid for - we don't have it on the dotted line - but for us not to worry about it, not to be asking for alternatives?"
SCHUMACHER: "We worry about these things every day, Mr. Gordon, I can assure you. And it's something we have to watch and we'll be the first to come...."
GORDON: "But are you going to be planning? Besides watching, are you going to make any alternative plans?"
SCHUMACHER: "Well, the alternative plans would be, we know the Europeans are going to try and come on line with ATV in the fall of next year. Other than that it is Russian vehicles in the near term and the alternatives would have to be alternative funding mechanisms if we got to that."
GORDON: "OK, so are you going to present any of those to us?"
SCHUMACHER: "No, sir, because at this time we don't think we need to. I mean, we can move forward quickly if we have to on this."
GORDON: "How quickly will you have a plan after they say they're not going to be able to pay for this?"
SCHUMACHER: "I think that'd be very fast, because it's a pretty straightforward issue. We're watching and if they fall off...."
GORDON: "OK, how fast would it be then? Could it be a day? Would it be a week? Would it be a month?"
SCHUMACHER: "I would say within a week of knowing, certainly."
GORDON: "Well, if that's the case it must be pretty easy - if you can do it that quickly - so you could just go ahead and tell us what it is."
SCHUMACHER: "The alternative is?"
GORDON: "Yes, sir."
SCHUMACHER: "It would be some form of funding, either with other partner contributions or us. And we would have to come forward to you for relief on the Act should that ever be the case."