New Committee Member
Wednesday proved a busy day on Capitol Hill for space issues. Cong. George Brown (D-CA), the ranking member of the Science Committee, announced the departure of Congressman Doggett (D-TX) from the House Science Committee. Replacing him is Congresswoman Ellen Tauscher (D-CA).
Commercial Space Act of 1997
The House Science Committee voted unanimously in support of the Commercial Space Act (H.R. 1702). The bill now goes to the full House for its consideration.
At the beginning of the House markup session, it appeared the Commercial Space Act might be facing trouble because of concerns raised by federal agencies. Chairman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) opened the proceedings with a strong urging for bipartisan support of the bill. He offered to make additional changes in bill language to reflect legitimate concerns of the Administration, but adamantly opposed additions "to accommodate bureaucratic turf battles."
The chairman offered an amendment, passed unanimously, that includes further modifications to bill language requested by the White House. Congressman Dave Weldon (R-FL) also offered an amendment, which was adopted, to require that NASA consider the contributions of states when completing reports mandated by the bill.
Congressman Brown (D-CA) stated his desire to get the White House on board the commercialization bill. He joined Sensenbrenner in condemning the "bureaucratic turf battles" and pledged to assist the chairman in discussions to resolve remaining issues. Brown speculated that another amendment with "useful improvements" would likely be offered to the commercialization bill when it comes to the floor.
Maintaining bipartisan support and gaining the endorsement of the White House will greatly assist the bill's passage, if and when it is considered by the Senate later this year.
Senate Hearing on Space Station
Senator Bill Frist (R-TN), Chairman of the Commerce Subcommittee on Science, Technology and Space, conducted a hearing on the International Space Station. Senators Hutchison (R-TX) and McCain (R-AZ) made brief appearances; no Democrats attended.
NASA Administrator Daniel Goldin appeared as the first panel. He offered a strong defense of the space station program. In written testimony, he said the space station -- "a 900,000 pound engineering marvel" -- is now 60 percent complete. The U.S. is almost finished with the work on the design and fabrication of the "flight elements for the first six American flights."
According to Goldin, "The Space Station Program continues to demonstrate a high level of performance, completing approximately 97% of scheduled work at approximately 104% of budgeted cost."
Of growing concern to NASA is the performance of Boeing, the prime contractor. The past six months, Boeing and its subcontractors "have spent about 20 percent more than planned to perform the contracted scope of work." NASA plans to work closely with Boeing corporate management to ensure that Boeing people and subcontractors receive the support they need.
Goldin said "The potential for unforeseen challenges to [its] cost and schedule targets is extremely high. ... It is certain that the program does not have adequate reserves built into the total development estimate to address Russian contingencies."
Beyond hardware problems caused by Russia, Goldin said there is a potential that Russia "may not be able to fully support the currently planned number of Russian-funded logistics flights to ISS." NASA said it is working with Japan and the European Space Agency to develop options for a contingency plan.
Goldin announced there will be five shuttle flights per year to the space station for resupply of research samples and equipment. At least two crew members will be dedicated to research operations 365 days per year. The U.S. will have 26 payload racks (compared to 7 on Spacelab), and efforts are underway to increase the communication downlink rate from 50 Mbps to 150 Mbps.
Thomas Schulz, representing the General Accounting Office (GAO), testified on the second panel, along with Marcia Smith, from the Congressional Research Office, and Dr. Larry DeLucas, director of the Center for Macromolecular Crystallography.
Schulz presented a harsh assessment of the space station project. "Since April 1996," he said, "the cost overrun has more than tripled to $291 million and the estimated cost to get the contract back on schedule has increased by almost 50 percent to $129 million."
If further problems arise with the space station, Schulz said a "congressional review of the entire program would be needed."
Senator John McCain reinforced this view in questions to Schulz and said statutory legislation may become necessary to force a cap in spending on the space station. Marcia Smith said there already is a "policy cap" on funding and questioned the value of statutory language. NASA's annual authorization bill also limits what NASA can spend on the station and further legal restrictions would not solve the agency's troubles.
Schulz challenged Goldin's assertion that Russia's inclusion in the space station program has saved $2 billion. According to Schulz, $1.6 billion of this amount "was to be achieved by completing the station's assembly 15 months earlier than planned -- by June 2002 instead of late 2003." But now NASA has delayed final assembly to October of 2003, eliminating the savings that had been projected.
Schulz said "Over the last 16 months, the program's financial reserves have decreased significantly -- from almost $3 billion to under $2.2 billion." By the end of FY 1997, this amount will have declined to $1.4 billion, according to NASA's estimate.
The testimony to the Subcommittee indicates NASA is facing continuing financial and political problems with the space station program. Senator Dale Bumpers (D-AK), the station's nemesis, can be expected to use the information supplied by a June 18 GAO report when he offers an amendment to kill the project to the Authorization and Appropriation bills on the Senate floor later this year. On Tuesday he issued a press release on the GAO findings, attacking the 1993 decision to make Russia a partner and calling it a "cynical ploy to gin up political support for a project that was heading toward a richly deserved cancellation." Also this week, Senator Bumpers also announced that he will not run for re-election to the Senate in 1998.
About the "NSS Capital Capsule"
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/.