Status Report

AIP FYI #22: Lawmakers Question Cost, Impacts of Space Exploration Initiative

By SpaceRef Editor
February 28, 2004
Filed under ,

“Before we get on board, we have to determine the extent of the
ticket we’re willing to purchase for the journey.” – House Science
Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert

The possible cost of a human exploration mission to the moon and
Mars, and how it might affect other R&D programs within and outside
of NASA, were the focus of a February 12 hearing of the House
Science Committee. Although committee members have pressed NASA and
the Administration for a clear goal for the human space flight
program, many remain unsure about whether President Bush’s vision,
announced earlier this year, is the right one at the right time. As
the committee’s ranking minority member Bart Gordon (D-TN) noted,
“this will not be an easy year to start major new initiatives in the
face of a growing deficit.” Committee chairman Sherwood Boehlert
(R-NY) declared himself “open-minded.” OSTP Director John Marburger
and NASA Administrator Sean O’Keefe, sitting at the witness table,
explained that the program’s incremental nature made its total cost
and schedule impossible to predict at this time.

Remarking that “NASA has had a mixed record on the credibility of
its budgeting,”Gordon pushed the witnesses repeatedly for a cost
estimate for the entire initiative. The chairman of the Space and
Aeronautics Subcommittee, Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) agreed that “the
question Mr. Gordon is asking is a very relevant question…. I
think that we do need specifics.” O’Keefe’s response: “There is no
way to put a price tag on a program that is in definition.” A
presidentially-appointed commission is currently working to develop
an implementation plan for the initiative (see FYI #20).

About half a dozen committee members echoed Gordon’s concerns that
“NASA’s other missions not be cannibalized.” Rohrabacher urged NASA
to look for savings through commercialization whenever possible, so
that science programs would not have to be cut. He added that he
would expect the initiative to cannibalize other programs – “that’s
called setting priorities” – but he warned that all involved had to
make decisions based on a clear understanding of what the priorities

Marburger said much of the $11 billion within NASA to be shifted to
the exploration initiative would come from discontinuing the launch
technologies program, reprioritizing space station research, and
phasing out the shuttle. “Space science continues to be robust,” he
reported: NASA’s outer planet missions and Sun-Earth connections
program remain priorities, a new generation of space observatories
is planned, and Solar Terrestrial Probes, although stretched out,
would continue. He also voiced support for the continuation of
NASA’s aeronautics R&D and for Earth science, which he said would
remain “the largest contributor to the interagency climate change
science program.” Marburger later added that “the way the
[President’s] vision is structured is good for science.” The
step-by-step framework of doing missions with no specific timeframe,
as the money was available and the technologies ready, he said,
“actually reduces the risk of invading science budgets in the

To questions about the intention to cancel the last Hubble Space
Telescope servicing mission (currently under review), Marburger
explained that with the safety recommendations made by the Columbia
Accident Investigation Board, the approaching end of Hubble’s design
life, and the increasing capabilities of adaptive optics, “the
risk-benefit equation has been altered.” He mentioned, though, that
other options to extend Hubble’s life besides a servicing mission
could be explored. In other questioning, O’Keefe replied that if
the human physiology and long-duration human space flight research
now planned for the space station was not completed by the target
date of 2016, “we’ll have to continue that activity beyond that
point.” Asked what he thought would be the greatest uncertainties
in estimating the cost, O’Keefe said development of the necessary
power generation and propulsion capabilities.

Some members were supportive of the President’s vision, like Tom
Feeney (R-FL), who stated, “we can pick it apart with 535 different
views of what the optimal role of America ought to be in space,
[but] I do believe that this vision…is focused, I think it is
bold, it’s affordable.” Others were reserving judgment until more
information was available. Boehlert predicted a “lengthy and
spirited debate…which could easily take us to the end of this
calendar year.” In closing, he said that this first in a series of
hearings was “not the beginning of the end; this is the end of the

Audrey T. Leath

Media and Government Relations Division

The American Institute of Physics

(301) 209-3094

SpaceRef staff editor.