Press Release

Rep. Giffords Statement on the Report of the Review of the US Human Space Flight Plans Committee

By SpaceRef Editor
September 16, 2009
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WASHINGTON – U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords today released the following statement on the report of the Review of Human Space Flight Plans Committee. The report is the focus of a House Science and Technology Committee hearing, which is now underway in the Rayburn House Office Building.

Giffords calls the report “a sobering reminder that our position as the world’s leading spacefaring nation is not a given–we continually need to re-earn that preeminent position through our actions, and we can’t just rest on past laurels.”

The report’s most important finding, she said, is the “serious mismatch between the challenges that we have asked NASA to meet and the resources that have been provided to the agency.”

Witnesses at today’s hearing include Norm Augustine, chairman of the Review of Human Space Flight Plans Committee; retired Vice Admiral Joe Dyer, chairman of NASA’s Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel; and Dr. Michael Griffin, a professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at the University of Alabama in Huntsville.

The statement by Giffords, chairwoman of the House Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics, is part of the hearing’s official record.

Today we will be discussing no less than the future of America’s human space flight program. The program that I think every politician in Washington and across the country points to when we talk about America’s great innovation and technological superiority.

I know that each of our witnesses today will bring important insights to our deliberations.

Yet as we start this hearing, I have to say that I am extremely frustrated, in fact, I am angry.

With all due respect to Mr. Augustine and his panel, I have to say that I think we are no further ahead in our understanding of what it will take to ensure a robust and meaningful human space flight program than we were before they started their review.

In fact, I’d argue that we have lost ground.

Let’s review the facts.

Probably the most important finding of the Review of U.S. Human Space Flight Plans is the panel’s determination that there is a serious mismatch between the challenges that we have asked NASA to meet and the resources that have been provided to the agency.

In other words, we can’t get anywhere worth going to under NASA’s projected budgets.

Well, we certainly didn’t need an independent commission to tell us that.

That’s been painfully obvious for some time now.

And the impact of that shortfall is that the good work being done by NASA’s civil servants and contractors risks being undone.

I’m glad they highlighted the problem, but it’s not exactly news to anyone who has been involved in the budget battles of recent years.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not denigrating the work done by Mr. Augustine and his panel. Mr. Augustine has an excellent reputation and I know that he has put a lot of work into this commission.

They have given us a sobering reminder that our position as the world’s leading spacefaring nation is not a given–we continually need to re-earn that preeminent position through our actions, and we can’t just rest on past laurels.

The rest of the world has discovered space too, and we are seeing the emergence of impressive capabilities in other countries that we need to take seriously.

That said, I think the men and women of NASA have demonstrated that they are up to the challenge.

Over the past four years, they have moved from initial concepts into design and development of the Constellation systems.

They have successfully completed a number of important design reviews, have undertaken test activities–including test-firing just last week the five-segment booster that will power the Ares I rocket into space and planning for a test flight of the Ares I-X rocket at the end of next month.

And they’ve done all of this even though the budgetary sands keep shifting under them, taking away resources that they thought they could count on and forcing them continually to replan and rephase even while they are trying to complete the hard technical and programmatic work that has to be done if Constellation is to succeed.

So when it was announced that Mr. Augustine would be leading an independent review of the nation’s human space flight program, I thought that they would take a hard look at the Constellation program and tell us what should be done to maximize its chances for success.

But that’s not what they did.

Instead of focusing on how to strengthen the exploration program in which we have invested so much time and treasure, they gave only glancing attention to Constellation–even referring to it in the past tense in their summary report–and instead spent the bulk of their time crafting alternative options that do little to illuminate the choices confronting Congress and the White House.

And so where does that leave us?

Well, in place of a serious review of potential actions that could be taken to improve and strengthen the Constellation program, we have been given set of alternative exploration options that are little more than cartoons–lacking any detailed cost, schedule, technical, safety or other programmatic specifics that we can be confident have been subjected to rigorous and comprehensive analysis and validation.

So, I have to ask my colleagues on the Committee–what are we to do with this report?

In the absence of evidence of mismanagement or technical or safety “showstoppers”–none of which the Augustine panel has indicated has occurred in the Constellation program–can any of us in good conscience recommend canceling the exploration systems development programs that Congress has funded for the past four years on the basis of the sketchy alternatives contained in the panel’s report?

I know that I can’t justify doing so, and I would suspect that you can’t either.

Hoping that “maybe things will work out” if we try something new is no substitute for the detailed planning and design and testing that has been the hallmark of successful space flight programs in the past.

Nor do we gain anything by confusing hypothetical commercial capabilities that might someday exist with what we can actually count on now to meet the nation’s needs.

We’ve made that mistake in the past, and we’ve suffered the consequences.

So I have to say that I just don’t get it.

I don’t see the logic of scrapping what the nation has spent years and billions of dollars to develop in favor of starting down a new path developed in haste and which hasn’t been subjected to any of the detailed technical and cost reviews that went into the formulation of the existing Constellation program.

For the nation’s sake, I hope that we can break this cycle of false starts in our nation’s human space flight program. It does not serve America well.

As far as I can tell, the Constellation program’s only sin is to have tried to implement a very challenging program with an inadequate budget.

Yet, some would now advocate walking away from that program, not because it is not performing, but because we are unwilling to face the truth that, as Mr. Augustine said in testimony before our Committee more than five years ago, “it would be a grave mistake to try to pursue a space program ‘on the cheap'”.

I hope that the Administration and this Congress finally take those words to heart and do the right thing. The future of America’s human space flight program is at stake.

SpaceRef staff editor.