Reps. Hall and Gordon Comment on NASA's New Space Transportation Plan
NASA has informed Congress, in the waning hours of the 107th Congress, of an amendment to its FY 2003 budget that would significantly re-direct NASA’s space transportation programs over the coming decade. Rep. Ralph M. Hall, Ranking Democratic Member on the House Science Committee, had the following reaction to NASA's proposed amendment:
"The Administrator promised to bring stability to the Space Station program. But it seems to me that rather than spending $10 billion or more on an Orbital Space Plane, we should stabilize the program by developing a cheaper, dedicated Crew Return Vehicle based on the X-38 design. The balance of the funds could be used to restore Space Station research capabilities and to deal with other pressing NASA needs.
"The proposed budget amendment leaves some significant questions unanswered:
- How will NASA ensure a crew-return capability on the International Space Station after the Russian Soyuz commitment expires in 2006 and prior to the availability of the Orbital Space Plane in 2010 or later? Will NASA revert to a human-tended Space Station during that period, with no permanent crew on orbit? It seems that NASA has left the Station with a gap of no return vehicles of at least four years, from 2006 to 2010.
- What other NASA missions beyond Space Station crew return justify the construction of an Orbital Space Plane given that NASA will rely on the Space Shuttle over the lifetime of the Space Station to carry out re-supply and to support the Station's eventual decommissioning?
- How credible is NASA's plan to fund Shuttle vehicle and infrastructure "enhancements" well into the next decade, when the original FY 2003 budget request cut a half-billion dollars from the Shuttle upgrades plan. Will this cut be reversed?
- What are the Administrator's intentions for the International Space Station? Two years after OMB re-structured the program, there is still no commitment to a credible research program or final configuration. Under the new budget plan, will NASA restore any of the $1 billion that it cut from the Space Station research program? Does NASA intend the final configuration to include 3, 5, or 7 astronauts? Is this indecision already adversely affecting our foreign investors from Russia, Japan, and Europe?
"I thank the Administrator for announcing this plan, and I look forward to his testimony and that of others as we strive to develop a space program that our nation is entitled to. In view of the limited time left in the 107th Congress, any substantive consideration of NASA's latest proposals will occur in the next Congress. I will seek a serious review of these proposals when we reconvene early next year."
Rep. Bart Gordon, Ranking Democratic Member on the Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee, also commented on the amendment:
"The proposed amendment to the FY 2003 NASA budget request is the latest change in direction for NASA's space transportation programs. I am concerned that the latest request seems to want to 'do it all':
- Build a multi-billion dollar 'Orbital Space Plane' whose ultimate cost and requirements are still to be determined, but which NASA estimates could cost on the order of $10 billion or more;
- Continue to fly and upgrade the Space Shuttle - perhaps until the end of the next decade or longer;
- Continue to fund risk reduction activities for a 'Second Generation' RLV program in spite of the fact that NASA apparently considers development of such an RLV to be unaffordable; and
- Continue to fund 'Third Generation' reusable technologies.
"According to the budget amendment, all of this would be done without adding any additional money to the FY 2003 NASA budget or its five-year run-out.
"The reality is that the budget amendment proposes to delay the availability of a U.S. Space Station Crew Return Vehicle by at least four years until 2010, delays a decision on whether to build an advanced RLV by three more years until 2009, and defers a decision on the future of the Shuttle program until the end of this decade - while simply shifting most of the additional funding required to implement NASA's proposals out beyond the current five-year budget horizon. Congress will need to take a close look at NASA's plans when we reconvene next year."