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"NSS CAPITAL CAPSULE" FOR MARCH 18, 1997
House Subcommittee on Space & Aeronautics
FY98 NASA Authorization Hearing: Space Shuttle Program

The House Science Subcommittee on Space & Aeronautics convened a hearing Thursday morning, March 13, to examine NASAäs FY 1998 budget for the Space Shuttle Program. Testifying on behalf of NASA was Deputy Associate Administrator (Space Shuttle) Steve Oswald. Also testifying was the Chairman of the Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel Paul M. Johnstone and Chief Executive Officer of the United Space Alliance Kent Black.

Testimony before the Subcommittee focused on four issues: (1) Overall safety of the Shuttle program; (2) safety and performance upgrades to the Space Shuttle, including the availability of spare parts and consumables; (3) the status of the transition of Shuttle flight operations to a single prime contractor, including cost savings estimates as a result of the consolidation; and (4) the future of the Orbiter Maintenance Down Period (OMDP) process.

In testimony, Mr. Black explained that the United Space Alliance has four goals:

  1. Fly safely and successfully
  2. Meet the manifest (seven to eight launches a year)
  3. Improve supportability
  4. Reduce costs

Mr. Black informed the subcommittee that, after the International Space Station has been built, commercial payloads will be used to help reduce costs.

Safety of the Shuttle Program

NASA Deputy Associate Administrator Oswald reported to the Subcommittee that "the Shuttle program has continued to increase safety margins while decreasing cost and infrastructure." Rep. Ken Calvert (R-CA) asked about the status of the Shuttle fleet and Mr. Oswald replied that "the Shuttle is still in good shape, there are 30 years of life left on the air frames."

Space Shuttle Upgrades

The alliance between NASA and USA will help NASA save money in the off-years. This money, in turn, will go to upgrading the Shuttle system. Paul Johnstone, in his opening statement, expressed concern about the Shuttle upgrades. Mr. Johnstone felt that NASA should not increase the safety risk just so that it could reach the manifest. Rep. Rohrabacher (R-CA) questioned the upgrade options available, stating that the Phase 2 upgrades were the only ones presently on the table. NASAäs Oswald countered by stating that there were two phases of upgrades readily available with two more potential phase upgrades being studied.

Orbiter Maintenance Down Period

Regarding the decision to send the Shuttle Atlantis to Palmdale, KSC management has agreed that neither the facilities nor the workforce at Kennedy could handle the magnitude and complexity of work involved in this particular OMDP. Rep. Weldon (R-FL) felt that relative costs are a critical issue when dealing with OMDP.


About the "NSS Capital Capsule"
The Capsule is a timely report of highlights from Capitol Hill hearings and other events involving space issues. Prepared by NSS staff or volunteers who attend in person, the Capsule provides NSS members and activists an "insider's" look into the thoughts of our national elected officials on space issues.


The National Space Society is an independent space advocacy group headquartered in Washington, DC. Its 25,000 members and 95 chapters support the creation of a spacefaring civilization. For more information on the NSS and our future in space, visit http://www.nss.org/.


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