|06 May 1998
Letter delivered to the President of the United States prior to a full House Science Committee hearing on the International Space Station (ISS) The letter urges the Administration to step forward, establish a relationship with the new Russian cabinet and work with the U.S.'s international partners to resolve funding and construction schedule problems in the ISS program.
In October of 1993, your Administration formally invited Russia to become a partner in the International Space Station program. Including the former Cold War adversary was viewed by officials as advantageous for technical and political reasons. It would speed the station's assembly by 15 months and save the U.S. about $2 billion. It would allow the international partners to tap into the Russians vast experience in long-duration space flight. And it would facilitate Russia's transition to a nation focused on conversion of defense industries to peaceful purposes, privatization and integration into the international community.
Russia, in return, offered to sign an agreement to control the export of missile technology and agreed to cancel a $400 million order for such technology from India.
When the partnership was announced, some members of Congress expressed concern about the health of Russia's economy. The General Accounting Office (GAO) was asked to review the benefits of Russia's participation in the space station program. GAO concluded there would be Üno net savings from Russian participation that could be used to fund other areas of the program and accelerate the schedule. In fact, it said Russia's involvement would actually increase funding requirements by $1.4 billion. (This includes spending to upgrade the Space Shuttle and $746 million for two additional assembly flights.)
The International Space Station, as currently designed with Russian participation, has twice the electrical power as Space Station Freedom -- a critical advantage for the operation of furnaces and other hardware. There are twice as many laboratory modules, and the crew has been expanded from three to seven, enhancing research capabilities.
Bringing Russia into the program clearly has increased our expectations in terms of the design, assembly, and operation of the International Space Station. We also have gained important knowledge from the study of astronaut health, safety and performance during U.S. shuttle missions to the Mir space station.
From a foreign policy perspective, our relationship with Russia has been strengthened as a result of its participation in the space station program. Making the transition to a democracy has been a rough road for Russia. It continues to experience many economic difficulties. The ISS partners collectively are building important science and business relationships, which will continue to bring our nations closer together.
One area of disappointment in the ISS agreement is Russia's inability to provide funding to meet scheduled deadlines for the production of critical hardware. Russia originally vowed to supply the Service Module, FGB, Solar Dynamic Power Dishes, solar arrays, Crew Return Vehicle, and resupply vehicles. The first element of the station was supposed to be launched in late 1997. Because Russia failed to complete the Service Module as scheduled, the station's assembly had to be postponed. Funding from the Russian government continues to be inadequate, throwing into doubt the completion of other components.
NASA is now scrambling to find additional resources to keep the ISS program afloat. Last year, the space agency announced cost overruns would reach $430 million in FY 1998. Congress agreed to provide $100 million in new funding and $130 million in transfer authority, leaving a shortfall of $200 million. The total amount may have been forthcoming, but your Administration never sent a formal request to Congress. Members on Capitol Hill viewed this silence as a reflection of your Administration's lack of support for Americaäs space program.
In each of the past seven years, you have proposed a reduction in funding for NASA. In your FY 1999 budget request, you propose increased spending for science and technology for the first time in years. The National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, and the Department of Energy all get a boost. But, while these programs would receive more resources, NASA's budget is cut by another $173 million. When accounting for inflation, the rollback totals $445 million.
Congress recently authorized the transfer of an additional $63 million to the space station in FY 1998. The National Space Society opposes simply making available more money without first determining specific solutions to Russia's problems. The time has come to reexamine the production capabilities of Russia and to rework its commitments.
America and its international partners cannot afford further delays in the ISS program while hoping somehow Russia will be able to meet its responsibilities. Taking action does not necessarily mean Russia would no longer be a partner, but rather its contributions, and the manner in which to negotiate those contributions, would be renegotiated commensurate with Russia's capabilities.
Your Administration won credit for bringing Russia into the ISS partnership. It is now incumbent upon the White House to step forward and provide the necessary leadership to deal with Russian delays and to put the space station program back on a firm schedule. NASA scientists and engineers are not the people to do this; only the Administration has the international diplomatic resources that can and must be brought to bear on the situation. Postponing the inevitable will increase costs to Americaäs taxpayers, weaken our nation's space program, and sully our relationships with the international partners.
We believe Congress is ready and willing to provide additional funding if necessary to complete construction of the space station. But first, the White House must step forward, establish a relationship with the new Russian cabinet and work with our international partners to resolve problems in the ISS program.
Mr. President, on behalf of the NSS membership, I urge your immediate attention to this issue and pledge the resources of our society to get the International Space Station program back on track. Best wishes.
The Honorable John McCain
Dr. Kerri-Ann Jones, Acting Director,