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S. 1584 [Report No. 108-143], FY 2004 NASA Excerpts (part 1)

Status Report From: Senate Appropriations Committee
Posted: Friday, September 12, 2003

NATIONAL AERONAUTICS AND SPACE ADMINISTRATION

  • Appropriations, 2003 $15,338,907,000
  • Budget estimate, 2004 15,469,300,000
  • Committee recommendation 15,338,907,000

GENERAL DESCRIPTION

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration [NASA] was established by the National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958 to conduct space and aeronautical research, development, and flight activities for peaceful purposes designed to maintain U.S. preeminence in aeronautics and space. NASA's unique mission of exploration, discovery, and innovation is intended to preserve the United States' role as both a leader in world aviation and as the pre-eminent space-faring Nation. It is NASA's mission to: advance human exploration, use and development of space; advance and communicate scientific knowledge and understanding of the Earth, the Solar System and the Universe; and research, develop, verify and transfer advanced aeronautics and space technologies.

COMMITTEE RECOMMENDATION

The Committee recommends $15,338,907,000 for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration for fiscal year 2004, the same as the fiscal year 2003 enacted level and $130,393,000 below the President's request.

The Committee has modified the account structure as proposed under the budget request of NASA. The Committee has transferred the appropriate activities to reflect the two newly created accounts of Science, Aeronautics and Exploration, and Space Flight Capabilities. Science, Aeronautics and Exploration will contain the enterprises of Space Science, Earth Science, Biological and Physical Research, Aeronautics, and Education. The Space Flight Capabilities account will contain the funding for the International Space Station [ISS], Space Shuttle, Space Flight Support, and Crosscutting Technology. The account of the Office of the Inspector General will remain unchanged. These account revisions were made to better accomodate NASA's transition to full cost accounting.

In addition, NASA is at a crossroad in its history. Because of the tragic loss of the Shuttle Columbia, the Committee believes that both the Congress and NASA must make a renewed commitment to safety as the highest priority in the NASA budget. While safety has always been our highest priority for NASA, something went terribly wrong on that tragic day in February when the Shuttle Columbia crashed to earth and seven of our bravest astronauts died. We know more about the Columbia tragedy now that the Columbia Accident Investigations Board [CAIB] has issued its final report. The findings are disturbing but provide a foundation for NASA to assess and institute the substantial reforms that must be made to make a return to flight both safe and successful.

As part of this reform process, the Committee directs NASA to submit a comprehensive plan within 4 months of enactment of this Act that will respond to the CAIB report as well as address other staffing, systemic and program shortcomings in NASA programs. The plan should also include an assessment of any proposed investments that NASA considers critical to the reform of the agency and the success of its missions. Finally, the plan is expected to provide a 10-year funding profile for implementing proposed reforms with benchmarks that are designed to ensure a robust and safe return to flight.

Moreover, NASA's existing budget profile already maps out an aggressive role for the United States in both manned and unmanned space exploration. However, the potential out-year costs are substantial and will likely be very difficult to sustain. This difficulty will be compounded further by whatever NASA proposes in the way of reforms and investments in response to the final findings of the CAIB. In addition, the Committee believes that there must be a renewed commitment to a replacement of the Shuttle as the primary vehicle for manned space flight. While this commitment may begin with an increased investment and new timetable for the Orbital Space Plane [OSP], the Committee understands that NASA sees the OSP, not as a shuttle replacement, but as a crew return vehicle from the ISS in times of emergency and as a crew and supply transport vehicle otherwise. Nevertheless, the Committee believes that a replacement for the Space Shuttle must be considered a priority as part of any plan for a return to flight and the Committee directs NASA to include plans and benchmarks for the replacement of the Space Shuttle as part of its comprehensive plan in response to the CAIB.

During fiscal year 2004 the Committee directs NASA to include the outyear budget impacts on all reprogramming requests and include the outyear budget impact of all missions in the annual operating plan. The operating plan and all resubmissions also should include a separate accounting of all program/mission reserves.

The Committee remains sensitive to continuing risks regarding the illegal transfer and theft of sensitive technologies that can be used in the development of weapons by governments, entities and persons who may be hostile to the United States. The Committee commends both NASA and the NASA Inspector General [IG] for their efforts to protect sensitive NASA-related technologies. Nevertheless, this will remain an area of great sensitivity and concern as the development of technological advances likely will continue to accelerate. The Committee directs NASA and the NASA IG to report annually on these issues, including an assessment of risk.

The Committee also expects NASA to continue its work on long-term plans to partner with U.S. universities and industry in a variety of NASA-related science research, including research related to nanotechnology, information technology and remote sensing. These are all areas of investment that have a commercial application that will have an increasing impact on society, the economy, and quality of life.

The Committee remains very concerned over the inefficient use of funds by NASA. The Committee understands that most of the programs and activities funded by NASA are very difficult and technologically challenging and are what laypersons jokingly refer to as `rocket science.' Nevertheless, where there are delays in programs and activities, NASA often ends up paying the additional costs necessary to support a standing army of contractors and related employees for little or no work in order to protect the institutional memory of the delayed program or activity, regardless of the reason for the delay. In these cases, NASA and the American taxpayer get little in return. The Committee directs NASA to report within 4 months of the date of enactment on various options to reduce the costs associated with these delays, including new requirements for what constitutes `core' staff and `core' program needs. These costs are becoming increasingly difficult to sustain and have resulted in funding shortfalls that have to be compensated through reserves maintained for other projects and activities.

GENERAL DESCRIPTION

NASA's `Space Flight Capabilities' [SFC] account provides for the Space Flight and Crosscutting Technology Programs. The Space Flight Program includes the International Space Station [ISS], the Space Shuttle Program, and Space and Flight Support. The Crosscutting Technology Program includes Space Launch Initiative, Mission & Science Measurement Technology, and Commercial Technology Partnerships.

The SFC appropriation includes both the direct and the indirect costs supporting the Programs, and provides for all of the research; development; operations; salaries and related expenses; design, repair, rehabilitation, and modification of facilities, and construction of new facilities; maintenance, and operation of facilities; and other general and administrative activities supporting the Space Flight Capabilities programs.

COMMITTEE RECOMMENDATION

The Committee has provided $7,582,100,000 for the Space Flight Capabilities account. This amount is $200,000,000 below the President's request for these activities in fiscal year 2004 and $1,416,442,000 above the fiscal year 2003 enacted level.

Space Shuttle.--The Committee believes there is no higher priority than improving the safety and reliability of the remaining Shuttle orbiters. The Shuttle remains the cornerstone of our Nation's heavy launch capability and is critical to the future of the International Space Station [ISS] and scientific research. The future of the ISS, and other U.S. manned space flight missions for the rest of the decade are contingent upon having a working Shuttle fleet that is as safe as possible. While it is expected that NASA will do its best work at making the Shuttle a safe vehicle, it will face increasing challenges as the Shuttle and the Shuttle infrastructure continue to age.

The Committee notes that prior to the Columbia accident, both the Shuttle and the supporting infrastructure were expected to need substantial investments in future years in order to maintain the integrity of the Shuttle program. Now that the CAIB has released its final findings, it is expected that NASA will establish an aggressive schedule and provide sufficient resources to upgrade Shuttle hardware and supporting infrastructure in fiscal year 2004 and beyond.

As discussed in previous years, the Committee remains committed to the continued safety of the Shuttle program as its highest priority and looks forward to addressing the recommendations of the CAIB and working with NASA in order to provide the necessary funds to ensure the future success of the shuttle fleet. It is of paramount importance that there be transparency in all documentation of shuttle safety provided to the Committee, and that this information contain details of NASA's current safety efforts, as well as any future plans that may develop out of the CAIB report.

Moreover, now that the recommendations of the CAIB have become available, and NASA has the opportunity to decide on how best to implement fixes in order to return the shuttle to flight, the Committee directs NASA to keep the Committee informed, in writing, of any reprogramming of funds related to the shuttle program, as well as including the outyear impacts on all activities involved in the reprogramming.

The Committee is very concerned that the NASA response to the CAIB report will require a major restructuring of the Shuttle program if not the entire agency. These reforms also are likely to require substantial additional funds which the Committee expects will be consistent with the comprehensive plan requested by the Committee for the reform of the shuttle program and agency. Nevertheless, the Committee is confident in the ability of the strong leadership in place at NASA and looks forward to working with NASA to ensure a safe and successful return to flight.

The Committee believes that implementing the recommendations of the CAIB, particularly as it pertains to the management of the HEDS Enterprise, will be the greatest challenge facing the agency. The list of potential recommendations and their impact on NASA's entire management structure could have a profound impact on NASA's future. Under current plans, NASA believes the Shuttle will need to fly until the year 2020. During the next decade, NASA also has plans to launch the Orbital Space Place, or some other vehicle to supplement the Shuttle, to support the operation of the Space Station. With NASA planning to manage two manned vehicles in the near future, the Committee believes it is absolutely critical that NASA implement the safety recommendations of the CAIB as they pertain to the management of the HEDS Enterprise.

Due to the uncertainty of how NASA intends to implement the final CAIB recommendations for the return to flight of the Shuttle, the Committee recommends that funding for the Shuttle be $3,968,400,000, the same as the level within the request of the administration. This will allow NASA to have funds readily available to make a return to flight as soon, and as safely as possible.

More importantly, the shuttle funds are provided as a discrete budget line, with this account dedicated solely to shuttle funding needs. NASA may seek additional funds by transfer from the ISS funds within this account.

The Committee directs NASA to continue its oversight of the contractors involved with all aspects of the Shuttle and its infrastructure. While NASA ultimately bears the responsibility for assuming the safety and integrity of the Shuttle program, it also relies upon contractors to do a vast majority of the work. The oversight role that NASA plays cannot be taken lightly, but it is all who are involved in the Shuttle program that must bear responsibility for making the program as safe as possible to insure the success of the Shuttle program.

The Committee is concerned about the current inventory of parts for the shuttle fleet. With the need for specialized equipment in order to maintain the safety of the remaining shuttle fleet, it is expected that NASA have appropriate inventory of parts available in order to keep the orbiter fleet from experiencing further delay. The reliance on the Shuttle for at least the next decade and beyond should be reason enough to ensure appropriate levels of replacement parts in order to keep shuttles flying on schedule once the shuttle program has returned to flight. The Committee directs NASA to provide the Committee with a report detailing the shortfalls in shuttle part inventory, the plans on how to correct these shortfalls, and the cost implications of keeping adequate resources available. This report should be submitted to the Committee no later than 60 days after enactment of this bill.

The Committee notes its strong support and approval of the actions of the current Administrator, Mr. Sean O'Keefe, whose leadership has been instrumental in moving NASA beyond the Columbia tragedy and in a position where it will be able to make a successful return to flight. Mr. O'Keefe made numerous reforms to the administration of NASA programs before the Columbia tragedy and has continued these efforts with regard to both the Shuttle program and all other aspects of NASA program administration and management.

On May 12, 2003, the Administrator re-established the Space Flight Advisory Committee [SFAC]. The Committee supports the re-activation of this Committee and believes its mission is more important than ever. Before and after the creation of an independent oversight board by Congress, the Committee believes SFAC can serve a valuable role by providing the Congress with an independent assessment of the Agency's progress in implementing the recommendations of the CAIB as well as an overall assessment of the Shuttle program. The Committee directs the SFAC to report directly and independently to the Congress by April 1, 2004 on NASA's implementations of the CAIB recommendations as well as an overall assessment of the Shuttle program. The Committee provides $3,000,000 to the SFAC from within available funds for this purpose.

The Committee finds that the Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel, a commission established by statute after the Apollo fire, did not materially factor into the intended effort to provide clear `warning signs' prior to the Columbia accident, nor did it provide the required checks and balances in its review of the safety procedures at NASA to observe the culture deficiencies cited by the Columbia Accident Investigation Board. As such, the Administrator should reconstitute this statutory panel to appoint recognized safety, management and engineering experts from industry and academia with a renewed charge to provide the checks and balances necessary. This should include, but not be limited to, an examination of the annual budget for shuttle operations, management and safety to advise of its adequacy prior to the annual budget submission. The Administrator should appoint leading experts in these fields, and consider drawing from the `Stafford-Covey Task Group' Return To Flight membership. Further, the Safety Advisory Panel shall also provide the Committee with a report, at the time of the annual budget submission, in order for the Committee to better asses the budget for the Shuttle program in terms of safety, upgrades, operations, and overall management of the Shuttle program.

The Committee also expects regular consultations by NASA on all proposed changes to investments in the Shuttle program. These consultations should occur before final decisions are made to the program.

Space Station.--The International Space Station [ISS] was expected to reach a significant milestone in February of 2004 of core complete. With seven shuttle flights necessary for the construction of the ISS to reach core complete, there is still a significant amount of assembly and logistical support needed in order to reach this construction milestone.

Instead, of reaching core complete, the ISS is now being regularly transported by and supplied through Russian built Progress and Soyuz capsules. While these capsules are capable to transport both crew and supplies, the Committee is concerned that reliance on these vehicles, while not optimal, may have to continue for an extended time into the future.

The Committee also is concerned about the present situation aboard the ISS which involves a 2 person crew with approximately 120 hours a week of availability for activities. According to NASA, of those 120 hours, 111 are consumed by activities that do not utilize the science endeavors that the ISS is being constructed to facilitate. During these 111 hours, astronauts are engaged in activities involving maintenance, planning, and ISS systems operation. While these activities are crucial for the on-board operation of the ISS, there are only 9 hours a week available to the crew for continuing to support prioritized science activities.

The Committee recognizes that the Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel has analyzed the risks involved in maintaining a crew of two on the ISS and has determined that a crew of two is feasible. Given the potential of having crews of two aboard the ISS for an undetermined amount of time, the Committee asks that resources to continue to keep a crew at the ISS be identified and made available as NASA works through the reccomendations of the CAIB report. The reliance on ISS partners to provide the resources to procure vehicles that are now even more essential than planned should allow the ISS partners the opportunity to further show their commitment to the ISS, as well as give NASA the opportunity to take the time necessary to make modifications to the Shuttle for continued construction of the ISS.

As soon as the Shuttle is available to provide access to the ISS, the Committee is adamant that NASA provide the Committee with a plan detailing the steps necessary to reach US Core Complete, as well as the outyear costs associated with the revised schedule.

Space Launch Initiative.--The Space Launch Initiative [SLI] began in 2001 as a key component of the ISTP, with a goal to provide the necessary technology development, risk reduction, and systems analysis to enable NASA to proceed into full scale development of a 2nd Generation Reusable Launch Vehicle. The goal of SLI is to provide safe, reliable, and affordable access to space and to extend the boundaries of human space flight. SLI consists of two significant programs, the Orbital Space Plane [OSP], and the Next Generation Launch Technology [NGLT] program.

The Committee understands that the role of the OSP is to provide a crew return capability from the ISS by approximately 2010. Once this occurs, it will then evolve into a complement to the Shuttle for taking crew into space, and will enable a transition path to future reusable launch vehicle systems. It is expected that the OSP program will provide the opportunity to support crew transport to and from space by 2012. It is clear to the Committee that some type of vehicle will be necessary to supplement the aging Shuttle fleet, and that such a vehicle should be made available as quickly, and as safely as possible.

The Committee is skeptical that the OSP is the only approach for NASA to move astronauts to and from the ISS. As previously noted, the ISS is currently being serviced, and crews are being transferred using Russian vehicles. This technology has been employed by NASA for a number of missions, and the ISS has relied on these vehicles since the Columbia tragedy and we continue to expect to rely on these Russian vehicles at least for the near term. Therefore, NASA should not limit itself to RLV technology alone, but should also explore other future options for servicing the ISS in light of the loss of Columbia.

The Committee does not want to repeat the mistakes of the Space Station, where poor management and lack of independent oversight resulted in major cost overruns, to occur with the Orbital Space Plane. Therefore, the Committee directs the Administrator to create an independent oversight committee, modeled after the International Space Station Management and Cost Evaluation Task Force, to examine the design, technology readiness and cost estimates for the Orbital Space Plane. The Administrator shall use available funds within the Science, Aeronautics and Exploration account to provide sufficient resources for this Commission this fiscal year. This oversight committee shall report to the Administrator and the Committees on Appropriations by June 1, 2004 on their findings.

The NGLT program is experimental in nature and was created from the consolidation of the remaining technology development activities from the former Second Generation RLV with the Space Transfer and Launch Technology Program to ensure a coordinated technology effort. The goal of the NGLT program is to develop technology to make next generations of launch systems more affordable and more reliable, in support of the Agency's Integrated Space Transportation Plan. It is anticipated that, as the high risk technologies are developed and further refined, they will be moved into programs at NASA that will utilize the results, thus freeing NGLT to pursue other technologies. The Committee instructs NASA to determine the best candidates for the NGLT, as well as when these technologies will be able to be used in conjunction with other NASA activities. It is also assumed that if technologies being developed are not progressing as intended, that a thorough review of each project will occur, and that those projects showing a lack of progress will be terminated.

In particular, the Committee is concerned that NASA has not maintained control over its investment in NGLT. The Committee believes out-year costs cannot be maintained at the current level assuming the current projections on the out-year funding for other NASA priorities.

The Committee directs NASA to submit a report by January 31, 2004 on the outyear costs for projects within the NGLT program, the criteria being used to select technologies for investment, and the metrics used to determine whether projects within NGLT are progressing, or should be permanently shut down.

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