The National Space Society vision is people living and working in space

24 April 1997
National Space Society testimony accepted into the written record of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Subcommittee for Science, Technology and Space's authorization hearing for NASA's FY 1998 budget.

OPENING THE SPACE FRONTIER
By David Brandt
Executive Director
National Space Society
For the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Subcommittee on
Science, Technology, and Space
April 24, 1997

Mr. Chairman and members of the Subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to present the views of the National Space Society on the Administration's FY 1998 budget request for NASA.

Last year, the White House proposed to cut NASA's budget from $13.7 billion in FY 1997 to $13.09 billion in FY 1998 (1998 dollars). In the Administration's five-year plan, spending further decreased the following two years, then reversed direction in 2001 and climbed to $13.9 billion in 2002.

The National Space Society and other space community organizations warned that the proposed budgets would savage NASA, forcing the cancellation of major programs and research centers. We urged members of Congress and the Administration to reject the severe cutbacks and to stabilize spending for NASA.

To its credit, the Administration revised its numbers upward and now proposes to spend $13.5 billion in 1998 -- still a $500 million decrease from current spending when adjustments are made for inflation. In 1999, the WhiteHouse seeks to spend $13.07 billion, then $12.5 billion in 2000, $12.2 billionin 2001, and $11.9 billion in 2002 (1998 dollars).

The Administration's current plan slices $2 billion more from NASA'sbudget in real terms over the next five years. The space agency has beendownsized every year since 1992 and the Clinton budget continues to shrinkAmerica's space program by an additional 12 percent.

After the White House announced its new figures in February, membersof Congress suggested NASA was out of the woods, that its financialdifficulties were resolved. But this is not the case. Costs are continuing to risewhile funding declines. NASA cannot remain on this path, each year absorbingdeep rollbacks in spending, and hope to maintain its high level of performance. Five more years of declining funds pave a road to disaster both for NASA andAmerica's leadership in advanced technology.

Funding for NASA represents a major portion of our nation's investmentin science and technology. While America is rolling back support in these vitalareas, global competition is rising. More and more countries are investingheavily to create technology-based economies, patterned after Japan's successfulmodel of development.

Once weakened, our nation cannot quickly rebuild its competitiveness. The seeds for new technologies can take years to germinate. By investingtoday in science and engineering, we are creating opportunities for the roadahead. And likewise, by underfunding these programs, we are damaging ourfuture economic health, lessening opportunities for the next generation.

While the Administration's budget for NASA is gloomy, funding levelsprojected last year by the House and Senate for FY 1998 and beyond are even worse. Last summer, Congress proposed spending only $13.1 billion forNASA in FY 1998, ratcheting down to $10.9 billion in FY 2002 -- a 23 percentcut (1998 dollars).

Since then, the House Science Committee has re-examined NASA'sfinancial position. Following the Administration's lead, it has backed awayfrom last year's budget projections and now supports funding NASA at $13.8billion in FY 1998 and $13.9 billion for FY 1999. The higher spending levelsstill do not stabilize the space agency's budget, but they are a step in the rightdirection.

NASA deserves the full support of Congress. The space agency hasimplemented a vast array of reform measures to improve its performance. Programs are being privatized and streamlined. It's squeezing every penny'sworth from its budget, doing more with less, innovating new technologies andnew ways of doing business.

NASA is transitioning to a new era of exploration and thecommercialization of space. The agency recently began to launch a new-generation of low-cost probes to explore our solar system. In the monthsahead, two spacecraft will reach Mars. In September, the Lunar Prospectorwill fly to the Moon to map its surface elements and search for water-ice in thepolar regions enshrouded in permanent darkness. In October, NASA is slatedto launch the Cassini spacecraft to explore Saturn.

Then next year, if all goes well, we will begin to assemble theInternational Space Station. The orbiting laboratory represents a gateway to thenext century. The space station will provide scientists regular access to spaceto conduct microgravity research. Aboard the laboratory, we will be able tolearn how to keep humans healthy in space over long periods of time. We willbe able to investigate the fundamental physics of many phenomena that remaina mystery because of the masking effects of gravity. And commercialenterprises finally will be able to carry out experiments on a regular basis toimprove products and processes on Earth.

International Space Station

When humans travel to space, their bones weaken, muscles atrophy. Theimmune systems goes on the blink. Scientists need access to space to learn howhumans biologically adjust to weightlessness, then develop countermeasures tothe debilitating health problems.

The International Space Station is a sophisticated, high-tech orbitinglaboratory. In the absence of gravity, researchers will have an opportunity toconduct a broad range of scientific investigations, including research oncombustion, bioprocessing, biomedicine, agriculture, protein crystallography,and materials science.

On Earth, gravity causes: 1) sedimentation, in which heavier particlessettle to the bottom of a container, and: 2) convection, where heat rises, forcingparticles to swirl upward. In a weightless environment, these forces are all buteliminated. By conducting experiments in space, scientists can gain new insightinto many phenomena and processes.

Knowing the fundamental physics governing material science, forinstance, will allow engineers to more precisely control and manipulate theformation of new alloys on Earth, reduce flaws in structures, and improve thephysical properties of metals, such as hardness, brittleness, and thermo-strength.

In a microgravity environment, researchers can produce larger and higher quality protein crystals, which are used by pharmaceutical companies togenerate three-dimensional molecular maps of proteins. With this information,companies can design new drugs in laboratories to target viruses and diseases.

The space station offers many advantages compared to the Space Shuttle. Scientists will have substantially more time to conduct research, which iscritical for many experiments. On Earth it can take six days to six weeks toproduce a single protein crystal. But the Space Shuttle remains in orbit foronly a couple weeks at a time, restricting the selection of proteins that can begrown in space. On the space station, scientists will have the opportunity toproduce crystals that require weeks to mature.

The shuttle, when returning to Earth, also generates violent g-forces andshaking that can damage crystals. Hardware is now being developed toexamine crystals produced aboard the station. Only data will be transmitted toEarth, eliminating potential damage during reentry through the atmosphere.

The National Space Society strongly endorses the International SpaceStation program. The orbiting laboratory represents a critical next step in thehuman exploration of space. More than 162,000 pounds of flight hardwarehave been manufactured, representing 56 percent of the planned program.

The station's first component had been scheduled for launch later thisyear, but Russia failed to build an essential element, forcing a delay in theprogram. America and its international partners are rightfully upset withRussia's lack performance. Also troubling is Russia's deliberate attempt towithhold information on the space station program. America has had to operatein the dark and make contingency plans not knowing the full extent of Russia'sinability to meet its obligations. Only by repeatedly sending high-leveldelegations to Russia have we been able to gather the facts and learn the truenature of Russia's problems.

Despite these shortcomings, the National Space Society believes the U.S.should continue to keep Russia involved. More is at stake than the spacestation alone. Russia is the world's only other major space faring nation, andwhile it's now suffering severe economic hardship, in the near future ithopefully can regain its financial well-being and contribute more fully to spaceprojects in the future.

In the meantime, the National Space Society supports an amendmentattached to the House authorization bill for NASA that requires the spaceagency to "develop a contingency plan with decision points for removing eachelement of Russian hardware in the critical path." The U.S. must not again bedependent on Russia to build essential elements of the space station to avoid thepotential for further costly delays.

Space Transportation Program

Possibly the most important and far-reaching program now funded atNASA is the development of low-cost transportation to space. To achieve thisgoal, NASA is investing in advanced technologies in propulsion, thermalprotection systems, avionics, and light-weight composite structures. To validate these new technologies, NASA also is building and testing experimental launchvehicles.

To demonstrate the feasibility of a single-stage-to-orbit Reusable LaunchVehicle (RLV), NASA initiated the X-33 program in 1994. The space agency,in partnership with Lockheed Martin Skunk Works, is now building a half-scaletest vehicle, dubbed the X-33, to pave the way for a new generation ofspacecraft that are cheaper to operate, safer, more reliable and easier tomaintain.

It now takes 60 to 70 days and an army of technical workers to preparethe Space Shuttle for a new mission. The X-33, by comparison, will requireonly 50 people and have a 48-hour turnaround capability. The program's fiveyear budget totals $979 million.

Construction of the X-33 is scheduled for completion in early 1999. The67-foot, remotely-piloted vehicle will make ten to 15 suborbital flight tests,reaching speeds of Mach 15. The X-33 will be launched from Edwards AirForce Base in the California desert, landing at sites in Montana, Utah,Washington, and California. Tests are expected to conclude in December of1999, at which time, NASA hopes industry will be in a position toindependently finance, build and operate a full-scale RLV for commercialapplications.

A fully reusable launch vehicle holds the promise of reducing spacetransportation costs from $10,000 per pound to one-tenth this level. Ifsuccessful, it will provide America a competitive advantage in the launch ofcommercial satellites, as well as propel forward the development of spacecommerce.

But we cannot be content to build only one X-vehicle. Reducing the costof space transportation must be an ongoing effort. NASA envisions cutting theprice tag for traveling to space to hundreds of dollars per pound. But toaccomplish this feat, the space agency must have resources to continually develop new technologies that can be validated by additional test vehicles.

Last year, NASA combined its Space Transportation Technology programwith its Aeronautics program. Technology has progressed to the point where there is no longer a clear separation between aeronautics and space travel. Engineers are looking to build planes that will skim the edge of space and spaceplanes that will have air-breathing rocket engines.

NASA's aeronautics program has proven very successful. The agencyprovides a core-level of funding to build a little, then test a little, advancingtechnologies a step at a time. NASA now wants to apply this strategy to spacetransportation. By adopting this method, providing an annual base-level ofsupport, we can continually make progress in advanced technologies to drivedown costs for traveling to space.

The Civilian Space Authorization Act for FY 1998 and FY 1999, passedby the House Science Committee, contains additional funding to enhance research and development in space transportation. Last year, theAdministration provided only about $30 million for the Advanced SpaceTransportation Program. This year's funding is set at $53 million. The WhiteHouse proposes to reduce funding in FY 1998 to $23 million and in 1999would drop support to just $16 million.

The National Space Society strongly disagrees with these cutbacks andsupports an increase in funding as proposed by the House Science Committee. The space transportation program, like the aeronautics program, must have anongoing level of support to develop and test new technologies. The concept hasproven highly successful and the additional resources will generate equallydramatic advances in space transportation.

Space Commerce

The International Space Station will open the door to space commerce. Opponents of the orbiting laboratory claim there is little commercial interest inspace research. But this is not true. Many companies have invested substantialsums to investigate how space can be used as a tool to enhance theircompetitiveness and produce better products on Earth.

Learning how to use a microgravity environment for commercialapplications is a difficult and complex process. First, hardware for experimentsmust be designed to generate specific data. There are strict limitations on massand power. The hardware must operate safely in space with a minimum ofhuman involvement and withstand violent shaking during launch and reentry. NASA's commercialization program did not begin until 1985. Manyearly experiments produced completely unexpected results. In January of 1986,the Challenger accident grounded all Space Shuttle flights for 30 months. When operations resumed, few payloads were dedicated to microgravityresearch. Not until the early 1990s did scientists gain access to space with anyregularity to fly experiments.

The Spacehab module, a private sector laboratory designed specificallyfor commercial experiments, did not fly aboard the Space Shuttle until 1993. There have only been a handful of flights. Consequently, industry has beenable to just whet its appetite, conducting a limited number of experiments tovalidate hardware and gather preliminary data.

Some commercial hardware has yet to be flown in space, while otherfields of research are much further developed, such as protein crystallography. NASA conducted the first protein crystal experiment in space in 1984, using ahand-held device. The following year, the Space Shuttle carried hardware toorbit that produced three protein crystals that were better than any grown onEarth, validating the technology. In 1991, NASA, in partnership with industryand academia, introduced second-generation hardware that achieved orders ofmagnitude better crystals than possible on Earth. Each flight of the currenthardware now generates 128 samples, of which 75 percent of the proteincrystals are better than the best crystals grown terrestrially. New drugs benefiting from space research are now in clinical trials andare expected to come to market beginning in 1998. Included are therapies totreat arthritis, skin cancer, flu, and diabetes.

Third-generation hardware is now being developed to allow researchers tomonitor the production of protein crystals in space and make real-time changesto maximize results. If all works as planned, the equipment will be placedaboard the space station, dramatically increasing the quality and quantity ofcrystals produced in orbit, providing services to as many as 100 scientificlaboratories around the world.

Not until the space station is constructed will industry have predictable,frequent access to space, at which time the development of commercial researchcan be expected to rush forward. In the interim, while NASA is building thespace station, access to space for commercial research is severely curtailed,threatening programs.

Private industry cannot afford to do nothing, wasting time and money,while NASA assembles the space station. If arrangements are not made to flymore commercial payloads during the interlude, the development of spacecommerce may be dealt a severe setback. A delay in the development of spacecommerce also will impact American companies that are hoping to use spaceresearch to gain a competitive advantage in the global marketplace.

Human Exploration

The possibilities of water-ice on the Moon and fossil life on Mars havereawakened interest in human exploration. The $65 million Lunar Prospector, scheduled for launch in September, will map the Moon's surface elements andsearch for deposits of ice that may exist in the darkened polar regions. Ifwater-ice is discovered, future human missions to the Moon may besubstantially simplified, making possible the earlier establishment of apermanent scientific outpost.

With regard to Mars, a human mission long has been a dream for manyAmericans. The announcement by NASA scientists last August that a meteoritejettisoned from the red planet may contain extraterrestrial life has excitedpeople around the world. It is the view of the National Space Society thatrobotic probes to Mars, while important in the near term to gather scientificdata, are limited in their ability to search for the fossil remains of life. Onlyhumans have the capacity to navigate the rough and varied terrain on Mars,which includes mountain peaks three times higher than Everest and a super"Grand Canyon" that stretches more than 2,000 miles.

In 1989, President George Bush committed our nation to return to theMoon, then push on to Mars. At the time, our vision failed to match ourpocketbook. Engineers proposed an elaborate mission to our sister planet withlittle regard for costs. The mission configuration, when committed to paperwith specific plans, proved to be too complex and cumbersome. While theMars mission never got underway, the effort nevertheless proved beneficial. Itwas the first time we seriously put together a human mission to Mars, gaininginsight to the technical challenges ahead.

Since Bush's announcement, NASA has undergone a revolution in theway it does business. Today, cutting costs is central to the agency's everydecision. NASA is pushing the bounds of technology, finding faster and bettersolutions, boosting performance while reducing expenses.

NASA has yet to apply its new methodology to a human mission to Mars,which would include the participation of our international partners. Discussions about a Mars mission still rely on old data, which can be deceiving. As a firststep to correcting this deficiency, NASA recently completed a study of aprototypical Mars mission to serve as a reference point for technology researchand development plans.

The National Space Society urges members of Congress to support a"Phase A" study of a human mission to Mars, which would include designarchitectures and an independent estimate of costs. A Phase A study willupdate our thinking and give policymakers the facts they need to understandwhat is required technically and financially to send humans to explore Mars. The study would identify specific technology programs that need support todramatically reduce costs and make a human mission to Mars affordable.

That humans will one day set foot on Mars is no longer a question. Amission to transport a crew to explore the red planet is within our grasp. Whatremains unknown are the timetable, mission structure, technologies, and cost --questions we can begin to answer with a Phase A study.

Conclusion

During the past five years, NASA has restructured itself from top to bottom. The agency is now poised to soar to the next century. NASA soon will beginlaunching a half-dozen, low-cost, robotic probes each year to explore our solarsystem, including a series of spacecraft to investigate Mars.

The International Space Station's assembly will soon get underway. The orbiting laboratory will provide research opportunities to learn how to keephumans healthy for long durations in space, as well as inaugurate a new era inspace commerce. NASA's space transportation program is developing andvalidating new technologies to radically reduce the cost of space transportation.

By investing now to develop new technologies to reduce costs, we canaffordably mount human exploration missions -- that include our internationalpartners -- to explore the Moon and Mars early in the next century .

The National Space Society urges members of the House and Senate tolook beyond the horizon, to invest in our nation's future by fully supportingNASA. If the Administration succeeds in cutting another $2 billion from thespace agency, as now proposed, NASA will begin to lose its vigor. Ournation's competitive edge will dull. Alternatively, if NASA's budget can be stabilized, a dynamic future of exploration and commercial development willbecome reality. America's spirit will take flight, as will its dreams and hopes.


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