Science Committee Democrats Unconvinced of Orbital Space Plane Rationale
The House Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee held a hearing today on NASA’s proposed Integrated Space Transportation Plan and the Orbital Space Plane (OSP) program in particular. It was the first opportunity for focused Congressional review of the OSP proposal since NASA first submitted its plan last November. Witnesses included Hon. Fred Gregory, the NASA Deputy Administrator; Hon. Dale Myers, former NASA Deputy Administrator; Dr. Jerry Grey, Director of Science and Technology Policy for the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA), and Dr. Michael Griffin, former NASA Chief Engineer and Associate Administrator for Exploration.
While NASA defended its Orbital Space Plane plan as a program that will provide "multiple benefits," the non-NASA witnesses all expressed varying degrees of skepticism and concern about NASA’s approach. For example, Dr. Griffin testified that, "It scarcely needs to be said that it will be extremely hard to justify the development of such a vehicle, at a cost of several billions of dollars, for such a limited purpose as OSP will have, given the requirements envisioned for it today." Dr. Grey added: "One troubling fact is the current OSP development cost estimate, which, although admittedly premature, ranges from $9 billion to $13 billion. Whatever happened to the $1.2 billion Crew Return Vehicle…?" An interesting alternative to starting up a totally new Orbital Space Plane program was offered by Mr. Myers, whose study team concluded unanimously that, "an Apollo-derived Crew Return Vehicle (CRV) concept, with a 4 to 6 person crew, appears to have the potential of meeting most of the OSP CRV Level 1 requirements."
Reacting to the testimony offered at the hearing, Rep. Bart Gordon (D-TN), the Ranking Member on the Subcommittee stated:
"NASA hasn’t yet convinced me that the Orbital Space Plane should be our main transportation goal for the next decade. There are still too many unanswered questions surrounding this program. I think we need to see what the Board investigating the Shuttle accident has to say before we lock ourselves into an expensive new Orbital Space Plane initiative."
Rep. Nick Lampson (D-TX) added:
"NASA’s proposed Orbital Space Plane program won’t deliver a Space Station crew return vehicle until four years after we need it, and it will cost billions of dollars more than the X-38/CRV program that was cancelled by the Administration. I think that’s both shortsighted and wasteful. We can do better."
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) offered the following comment:
"It seems that NASA is trying to develop the perfect vehicle, but has not yet decided what it needs to carry, or where. I believe that once the Administration develops a vision for the future of the NASA mission, the bright people at NASA and in the associated industries will be better able to rise to the challenges before them."
Apprised of the results of the hearing, Rep. Ralph Hall (D-TX), Ranking Member on the Science Committee offered his own thoughts:
"Unless we decide to stop flying the Space Shuttle and the Space Station, our highest priorities should be to build a crew escape system for the Shuttle and a simple, robust crew return vehicle for the Space Station as soon as possible."