Volume 4, No. 1 February 22, 2000
Acrimony over the NASA's repeated failure to take Russia out of the critical path in the construction of the International Space Station (ISS) as the main point of contention when Capital Hill began deliberations (2/6/00) on NASA's 2001 budget.
Science Chairman James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) again blasted Administrator Daniel Goldin - the only hearing witness - for not launching a propulsion module to keep the station assembly on schedule. When it was evident that Russia would default on its commitment to complete work on the service module in August of 1998, NASA did not move Russia out of the critical path, and the
misjudgment, according to Mr. Sensenbrenner, has cost Americans billions of dollars.
At the hearing, Mr. Goldin refused to concede that promises to Congress have been broken and only admitted that NASA should have started construction On the propulsion module a couple of years earlier.
Subcommittee Chairman Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) called Russia's involvement in the space station a "grievous mistake", which has "dearly cost the public" and put the US in a "very bad situation." Democrats on the Subcommittee did not rally to Goldin's defense.
Although NASA is experiencing numerous problems, most of the Subcommittee members did not take advantage of the hearing to probe for answers. Several of the Democrats were only interested in the space agency's educational programs, as if pre-programmed, hoping to score political points for reelection. Not one question was raised about space transportation and the reorganization of the agency's research programs. NASA is proposing yet another new initiative, changing course on how to reduce the cost of space transportation. In the new plan, a commercial space vehicle to replace the shuttle would not be completed until at least 2010!
Congressman Ralph Hall (D-TX) tried to get a straight answer from Mr. Goldin about a possible shuttle mission in 2001 for research. Last year, Congress set aside $40 million for the mission. Mr. Goldin confessed the Money has been diverted to pay for shuttle upgrades and to hire additional
personnel. Mr. Goldin then held out his hand and pleaded for more money so NASA might consider such a research mission. While graciously accepting the decision, Mr. Hall was less then pleased with NASA.
About the space agency's proposed budget for 2001, which boosts Spending from $13.6 billion to $14.035 billion, most members expressed support. In The five year run out of the budget - when President Clinton is out of office -the Administration proposes to increase funding for NASA to $15.5 billion. (Had NASA received the same amount as in 1992, plus inflation, it would today be funded at $16.8 billion.)
Following are some of the major issues contained in Mr. Goldin's testimony:
NASA proposes to spend an additional $1.5 billion to upgrade the Space Shuttles over the next five years for a total of $2.1 billion. The space agency had planned to fly eight shuttle missions in 1999, but completed only four. This means each flight cost taxpayers about $800 million. NASA is hoping to carry out nine missions in 2000.
For the new Space Launch Initiative (mentioned above), NASA wants to spend $4.5 billion over five years to develop a second generation reusable launch vehicle. Unfortunately, little new money is made available in 2001 to begin the work. The additional spending on space transportation may never materialize and is dependent upon decisions that will be made by the next administration.
In space science, the Mars program receives more funding. Some of the money will be used for a Mars Communication Network. Where the rest will be allocated is dependent upon the recommendations of an independent panel that is reviewing the Mars Program, following the failure last year of two probes to the red planet.
In FY 2002, Mr. Goldin said NASA will down-select to two contractors to get ready for a production decision on the Crew Return Vehicle, which has been delayed 12 to 18 months. Because assembly of the ISS is so far behind schedule, however, the delay may have minimal impact. Until the arrival of the CRV, Mr. Goldin said, the Russian Soyuz will be the only means of crew rescue.
NASA boosts next year's microgravity budget by ten percent. However none of the additional funds are used to expand and validate commercial technologies. In 1998, NASA said it would set aside 30 percent of the station on for commercial activities. But private industry will not be able to take future advantage of this opportunity because NASA has failed to adequately support commercial activities.
About the TransHab module for the space station, Mr. Goldin said industry had recently submitted proposals that are now being evaluated. A TransHab module would provide substantially more room for personnel aboard the station and better protection from radiation. Mr. Goldin said the module would have to be built without requiring any redesign of the space station and the contractor must have adequate financial resources. Will the project go forward? Mr. Goldin said, "I think it will happen in the not too distant future."