Status Report

AIP FYI #31: NASA FY 2005 Appropriations Hearing

By SpaceRef Editor
March 12, 2004
Filed under , ,

The Senate VA/HUD Appropriations Subcommittee met on March 11 to
hear NASA Administrator Sean O’Keefe discuss his agency’s budget
request for fiscal year 2005, which incorporates the President’s new
Space Exploration Initiative. The President has requested $16.2
billion – a 5.6 percent increase – for NASA. “Unfortunately,”
subcommittee chairman Christopher “Kit” Bond (R-MO) commented, “this
impressive increase raises more questions at this time than

Bond’s main concern was the four-year gap between the planned
phase-out of the shuttle in 2010 and the expected launch date of the
yet-to-be-developed Crew Exploration Vehicle. “I am not convinced
that a four-year gap in U.S. manned space flight is sound policy,”
he argued, “and, more importantly, I am convinced that this time
schedule is too optimistic.” Ranking Minority Member Barbara
Mikulski (D-MD) focused on the proposed cancellation of the final
servicing mission to the Hubble Space Telescope, which she called
“NASA’s greatest success since the Apollo program.” Both senators
questioned whether the costs and schedule for the exploration
initiative were too ambitious, and warned that funding increases for
NASA must compete against other demands within the VA/HUD
subcommittee’s jurisdiction.

Senators Richard Shelby (R-AL) and full committee chairman Ted
Stevens (R-AK) joined Bond and Mikulski in questioning the impact of
the new exploration initiative on other NASA programs. “I’m
concerned,” Shelby said, “as a lot of other people are, with the
significant reduction in funding” for physical sciences research on
the space station and shuttle, particularly in the area of materials
science. He noted that crew health depends on more than just
biological research; both the Challenger and Columbia tragedies
“were due to materials failures,” he pointed out. “It’s about
priorities,” was the mantra O’Keefe repeated several times
throughout the hearing. He explained that the exploration
initiative would focus all of NASA’s programs and capabilities on a
common effort, giving greater clarity and focus to the agency’s
mission. He did not expect “a big diminution in those central
objectives the agency has been chartered to do.” O’Keefe also said
that some materials science research would continue aboard the space

In answer to Bond’s concern about the delay between shuttle
retirement and availability of a crew exploration vehicle, O’Keefe
said that the milestone for retiring the shuttle was the completion
of the space station, not an arbitrary date. He said the time for
station completion would depend on the final space station
configuration to be agreed upon by NASA and its international
partners, and he suggested that an operational crew exploration
vehicle might be ready earlier than currently planned.

Mikulski noted that a review of the decision to cancel the final
servicing mission to the Hubble Telescope, by Columbia Accident
Investigation Board (CAIB) Chairman Admiral Harold Gehman, has led
to a call for further study of the issue. Gehman’s review concluded
that “only a deep and rich study of the entire gain/risk equation
can answer the question of whether an extension of the life of the
wonderful Hubble telescope is worth the risks involved.” Mikulski
and Bond have asked the National Academy of Sciences and the General
Accounting Office to study the risks and costs of a servicing
mission. Although insisting upon following the CAIB’s safety
recommendations, O’Keefe said he welcomed the additional reviews.
He urged that alternative ways to service the telescope or extend
its useful life, such as reducing the rate of battery use, also be

The budget numbers in the Senate budget resolution “will mean
unacceptable shortfalls for a number of key VA/HUD programs,”
including veterans’ medical care and housing assistance, Bond said;
“these shortfalls have to be addressed before we provide increases
to new programs in other accounts.” Mikulski added, “the challenge
I see is not competing visions, but competing demands for revenue.”

Audrey T. Leath

Media and Government Relations Division

The American Institute of Physics

(301) 209-3094

SpaceRef staff editor.