Status Report

AIP FYI# 88: Recent Hearings Address NASA Workforce, Space Flight Issues

By SpaceRef Editor
July 13, 2003
Filed under , , ,

Three recent hearings of the House Science Subcommittee on Space and
Aeronautics are summarized below:

long the space shuttle fleet will be grounded, the implications for
the space station, and the future of manned space exploration led
subcommittee members to review NASA’s space transportation plan at a
May 8 hearing. A major concern was the fact that completion of the
U.S. core configuration of the International Space Station (ISS)
will be delayed until the shuttle is once again available. In
addition, the U.S. had agreed to provide crew rescue capability for
the station after the Russian commitment to three-person crew rescue
expires in 2006. However, in recent years NASA canceled several
programs to develop a crew return vehicle (CRV) and to seek
alternate access to the station through the commercial sector.
Subcommittee members were also concerned that NASA’s plans for a new
space plane for crew rescue and transportation would still rely on
use of the shuttle’s heavy-lift capacity for ISS support.

NASA’s Integrated Space Transportation Plan (ISTP), developed prior
to the shuttle accident (see FYI #6), would extend the shuttle’s
lifetime, pursue development of an Orbital Space Plane (OSP) by the
2010-2012 time frame, and, in the long term, develop next-generation
launch technologies. The possibilities for accelerating OSP
development will be incorporated into an updated space
transportation plan to be issued later this summer, as will the
results of a study concluding that an Apollo-derived module might
fulfill crew rescue needs even sooner. The Director of Aerospace
and Science Policy for the American Institute of Aeronautics and
Astronautics, Jerry Grey, recommended that crew rescue and
transportation vehicles be developed serially rather than in
parallel, enabling NASA to focus on the more-urgently needed CRV and
reduce cost and risk by using that experience in subsequent
development of a crew transportation vehicle. In-Q-Tel CEO Michael
Griffin, however, found NASA’s plans “far too conservative.” He
urged NASA to come up with future space exploration goals and then,
instead of the currently-planned OSP, build the spacecraft needed to
achieve them.

“I don’t want any more people going up in the existing orbiter
fleet, period,” declared Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX). “I want to phase
out the shuttle,” Griffin agreed, but “given the investment in the
[station]…we must do those things minimally necessary to fly it”
until it can be replaced. Rep. Nick Lampson (D-TX) questioned what
would happen after the Russian commitment to providing the Soyuz for
three-person crew return expires in 2006, especially if the intent
is to enhance the station’s research capability by increasing the
crew to more than three. The ISS International Partners have agreed
that Russia will continue to provide a three-person rescue
capability even after 2006 “until we [have] our capability,” Deputy
NASA Administrator Frederick Gregory reported, and the partners will
determine, “at some time, how that would be paid for, or bartered
for, or traded for.” Rather than spending “a great deal of our seed
corn money and just getting through the crisis,” Subcommittee
Chairman Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) suggested, the U.S. should spend
its money “on developing new technologies and utilizing the
Russians…to make sure we get through the crisis. The Russians are
our friends. They want to work with us.”

U.S.-RUSSIAN COOPERATION IN SPACE: A June 11 hearing explored
further the issue of Russian support for the ISS in the wake of the
Columbia accident, and how the 2000 Iran Nonproliferation Act
constrains U.S.-Russian cooperation on space programs. Until the
shuttle fleet’s return to operation, the ISS program is dependent on
the Russian Soyuz and Progress vehicles for station crew transport
and resupply. The Russian government has expedited current-year ISS
funding and is considering increased funding for 2003 and 2004, and
the other International Partners are contemplating actions that
could increase the funds available to the Russian Space Agency. The
U.S., however, is prohibited by the nonproliferation act from
spending money to purchase Russian spacecraft or services for the
ISS unless Russia meets certain nonproliferation requirements
(although there is a waiver for immediate loss of life or grievous
injury to the station crew). Discussion focused on how the station
will be maintained if the Russians and other International Partners
cannot meet the potential need for additional funding, and whether
NASA should request from Congress a waiver of the nonproliferation
act provisions.

Although he did not appear at the hearing, Deputy Assistant
Secretary of State Steve Pifer submitted testimony stating that
“bolstering nonproliferation remains a core issue on the U.S.-Russia
security agenda,” and that Russia’s actions are “not yet sufficient”
to satisfy the requirements of the act. Declaring that Russia’s
motivations for proliferating were largely to achieve foreign
political leverage and to maintain an outmoded, oversized
military-space industry, Henry Sokolski, Executive Director of the
Nonproliferation Policy Education Center, challenged the
“conventional wisdom” that cooperation on civilian space projects
would deter the Russians from selling sensitive technologies.

Concerned that the Russians would be unable to meet their promises
for ISS support, Ranking Member Bart Gordon (D-TN) tried to get a
definitive answer to who would pay if additional Soyuz or Progress
flights were needed. NASA’s Assistant Administrator for External
Relations, John Schumacher, indicated that the ISS partners would be
monitoring the situation and proposing solutions as necessary. He
explained that the U.S. and Russia have an agreement that each
country’s contributions to the ISS would balance out over the long
term, so additional contributions by one country at one time could
be balanced by the other country’s efforts at another time. When
pressed by Gordon, he said that if Russia was unable to ensure the
availability of spacecraft as needed, there would have to be “some
form of funding either with other partner contributions or us, and
we would have to come forward to you for relief on the act.” Rep.
Lampson noted that he has introduced H.R. 1001 to amend the
nonproliferation act by allowing NASA to purchase additional Russian
vehicles if necessary to ensure crew safety and maintain the
station’s operational viability.

“We know now that there is a hurdle we must jump over…to expand
the type of cooperation that we have with Russia,” Chairman
Rohrabacher concluded. “In this case, we are talking about limiting
[the U.S.’s ability] to partake of Russian technology for our
financial benefit and…get the job done.” He hoped for an
alternative solution: “If we send the Russians the right kind of
signals, [maybe] they will change their behavior…and not be

NASA WORKFORCE BILL: On June 26, the subcommittee marked up a bill
to give the NASA Administrator authority to offer higher
recruitment, relocation and retention bonuses, offer other
incentives, and increase the pay for certain positions. According
to its sponsor, House Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert
(R-NY), H.R. 1085 “is a moderate, targeted, careful approach” to
help the agency “attract and retain the best and brightest.” The
bill has been sent to the full Science Committee, and a similar bill
was reported out of the Senate Government Affairs Committee.
Boehlert expressed hope that the legislation would get “to the
President’s desk early this fall.”

Audrey T. Leath

Media and Government Relations Division

The American Institute of Physics

(301) 209-3094

SpaceRef staff editor.