Status Report

Statement by Neal Lane before the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation United States Senate January 28, 2004

By SpaceRef Editor
January 28, 2004
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Given at a Full Committee Hearing: National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) Future Space Mission
Wednesday, January 28 2004 – 9:30 AM – SR-253

The Testimony of The Honorable Neal Lane, Ph. D. University Professor with Appointments in the Department of Physics and Astronomy and as Senior Fellow, James A. Baker III Institute of Public Policy, Physics and Astronomy Department

Mr Chairman and members of the Committee: Thank you for this opportunity to testify on the future of space exploration, especially the policy implications of President Bush’s proposal, outlined in his speech to the nation on January 14, 2004, to return astronauts to the moon and expand human space exploration to Mars.

My direct involvement with matters of space policy was the time I served in the Clinton Administration, in the White House, as Assistant to the President for Science and Technology (the President’s Science Advisor) and Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (from 1998 – 2001). Prior to that I was Director of the National Science Foundation (from 1993 – 1998), an agency that focuses both on research and on education. I am now at Rice University, where my position is University Professor, with appointments in the Department of Physics and Astronomy and as Senior Fellow of the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy, which includes space policy and other science and technology policy areas within the scope of its activities. Mr. George Abbey, former Director of the Johnson Space Center, is also a Senior Fellow of the Institute. The Rice Baker Institute has hosted an international summit on space policy and several other space events including workshops on space commerce. I also serve on the American Academy of Arts and Sciences Committee on International Security Studies, which is examining international rules on the use of space and implication of possible changes in the U.S. policy toward military uses of space.

The vision of President John F. Kennedy

Rice University is where President John F. Kennedy gave his address on Sept. 12, 1962, in which he spoke these now famous words:

“We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win .”

The political situation in the world, forty years ago, was very different than it is today. The U.S. and USSR were in a face-off and on the brink of a nuclear holocaust. Sputnik, launched by the USSR in 1957, stunned the free world. On May 25, 1961, President Kennedy announced to a joint session of Congress that we would take Americans to the moon and safely return them to Earth by the end of the decade. Indeed, that mission was accomplished in just over eight years, at a cost of about $25 billion (1960 dollars), which is approximately $125 billion of today’s dollars. This was an extraordinary accomplishment for NASA and the nation. It launched the U.S. into the leadership position it enjoys today. Boys and girls visiting Challenger centers at the Houston Museum of Natural Science and other centers around the world, are still excited by the stories of the moon landing and the vision of humans going back to the moon and on to Mars.

Today, the USSR no longer exists. Russia is our partner in space exploration, and the hostile threats to our nation no longer come from a single powerful nation.

It is ironic that on November 14, 2001, at Rice University, nearly four decades after President Kennedy’s speech, Russian President Putin gave a speech in which he said: “We have (for) a long time been cooperating in (the) space exploration field. And the creation, the establishment of the International Space Station is 85% percent (a) bilateral Russian-American project.”

The U.S. Human Space Flight Program

The U.S. human space flight program – from John Glenn’s heroic Mercury flight in February of 1962 to the Gemini missions and Apollo moon landings to the development of the Space Shuttle program and construction, with Russia and other international partners, of the International Space Station – has been one of America’s greatest stories of adventure and discovery. Once again this country showed the world that the American pioneering spirit and passion for exploration can cause people and nations to do extraordinary things. The benefits are not only in gaining a better understanding of how humans can live in space, but the engineering and technological advances that provide totally unanticipated benefits for people, our economy, and the Earth’s environment.

Human exploration of space is not without risk to the courageous men and women who make the journey. Along with the triumphs of our human space program we have suffered great tragedies – Apollo 1, Challenger, and more recently, Columbia, where astronauts gave their lives for the nation. We must do everything possible to make sure our astronauts and their partners from other nations are as safe as they can possibly be in space and that the irreducible risks are made clear to them and to the public.

Scientific Accomplishments

As exciting as human space flight may be, the U.S. civilian space program is very much about scientific exploration and discovery, using robotic means. NASA has often carried out unmanned space science missions in cooperation with international partners; but it has played the leading role in many of the most important ones.

The robotic studies of our solar system have produced a revolution in scientific understanding of our sun, planets, asteroids, comets and of the Earth’s immediate environment. Spectacular discoveries, including photographic images of the moon (Ranger, Surveyor, Lunar Orbiter, Clementine); Mars (Mariner, Viking, Mars Observer, Mars Global Surveyor, Mars Pathfinder, Mars Exploration Rovers Spirit and Opportunity); Venus (Mariner, Pioneer, Magellan); Mercury (Mariner); outer planets (Pioneer, Voyager, Galileo, Cassini); asteroids (Clementine, NEAR), comets (Stardust). Other missions are giving us new knowledge about the Sun (SOHO, Ulysses, HESSI, TRACE), its radiation and solar wind (Genesis, GEOTAIL, Polar) and the “space weather” problems it can cause on Earth and the plasma environment nearby (Cluster, IMAGE, WIND); and the Earth’s upper atmosphere (TIMED). Voyager 1 and 2 (now 26 years old) are probing the outer reaches of the solar system.

Joining the successes of these past and ongoing studies of the solar system is an extraordinary record of research and discovery in astronomy and astrophysics. An array of NASA space-based astronomical telescopes (Hubble, Compton, Chandra, ACE, GALEX, HETE-2, IMAGE, RXTE, SAMPEX, Spitzer, SWAS, WMAP, XMM Newton), several built and operated in cooperation with the European Space Agency and nations around the world, complement ground based telescopes (e.g. the Keck telescope and Gemini telescopes and others supported by the National Science Foundation). NASA, with its partners, has over 20 telescopes under development and an even larger number under study. In addition to building and operating these space-based observatories, NASA is a major supporter, along with the National Science Foundation, of basic research in astronomy and astrophysics at major universities all around the country.

Closer to home is NASA’s Earth Science Enterprise, which launched its flagship Terra in December of 1999, and operates (or has scheduled launch dates for) over thirty Earth observation satellites, many in cooperation with other agencies and countries, to provide images and data on many aspects of the Earth’s atmosphere, ocean and land. These include observations of: atmospheric temperature, moisture content, clouds, precipitation (Aqua), aerosol cloud properties (CALIPSO), absorption and re-emission of solar radiation by the Earth (ERBS), imaging and sounding data to help weather forecasting (GOES-L and M), soil moisture and freeze line (HYDROS), atmospheric carbon dioxide (OCO), global ocean currents (TOPEX/Poseidon), and other missions that provide information useful in understanding climate change and improving weather prediction.

In addition to the high-profile science research activities in Astronomy and Planetary and Earth Science, NASA supports important research in the biological and physical sciences, including research related to the National Nanotechnology Initiative.

One area of the life sciences that is particularly important for human space flight and that requires humans to live in space is studying the long term effects of zero gravity on the human body. We will not be able to make journeys to Mars, or even to stay for awhile on the moon, until we understand how humans respond and can insure their continued health. NASA has formed an excellent partnership to implement that research with the National Space Biomedical Research Institute (NSBRI) that brings together a number of the nation’s finest life science research institutions, under the leadership of the Baylor College of Medicine, to further our understanding of the effects of space travel on the human body.

Science is at the heart of NASA and the U.S. effort in space exploration and discovery. Any considerations of a change in national space policy should insure the continued health of NASA’s science programs. But, before we talk about changes in space policy, it is important to reflect on where we have been.

U.S. National Space Policy

President Clinton established a National Space Policy early in his Administration that emphasized the construction of the International Space Station, the first component of which (Zarya) was placed into orbit in November of 1998, followed by the first U.S. component (Unity), delivered by the Shuttle, in December of that year. The Clinton Administration also worked to provide funding for NASA to make an “end of the decade” decision on a replacement for the Space Shuttle, to continue robotic explorations of Mars, and to support a robust program of Astronomy, Space, and Earth Sciences. With regard to the Space Station, President Clinton made the decision that Russia would become a key partner, so that we could take advantage of their enormous experience in space, including the MIR space station, and Russia’s technical skills. It is a partnership that has had its ups’ and downs’, largely because of the economic situation in Russia, but today it is clear that we would not have the Space Station had it not been for this vital partnership.

President Bush’s Plan to Return to the Moon and Beyond

President Bush, in his speech of January 14, described a bold plan that will take humans back to the moon by 2020, with the expectation that humans would then go on to Mars, sometime in the distant future. In particular, the President described three goals:

1) “complete the International Space Station by 2010”;

2) “develop and test a new spacecraft by 2008 and to conduct the first manned mission no later than 2014”;

3) “return to the moon by 2020, as the launching point for missions beyond.”

The President said that the first part of this program would be funded by adding $1 billion to the NASA budget, spread out over five years, and reallocating $11 billion from within the NASA budget during the same timeframe. These amounts are within the annual 5% increase the President plans to make to the NASA base budget (approximately $15 billion), starting in FY 2005. The President has named a new Commission, chaired by former Secretary of the Air Force Pete Aldrich, to advise him on implementation of the new vision.

President Bush has laid out a bold vision for the human space program and a rough timeframe for making progress. The American people need a vision in order to share in the excitement and support the costs of the national space effort. NASA also needs a destination, compass heading, and timeframe for human exploration of space so that it can plan and manage effectively as well as log its progress. Such a vision, however, has to be achievable to be credible, so it is important to be aware of all that is involved in accomplishing the President’s goals, if those are the right goals for the country.

There are two overarching questions one might ask: Are these the right goals? Is the plan – including the budget – likely to accomplish these goals?

I will briefly comment on the three goals, add a fourth “science” goal that, in my opinion, is at least as important as the others, and suggest a number of questions that I hope the Commission, Administration, and Congress will consider carefully.

International Space Station

The goal to complete the International Space Station is not only appropriate but, in my view, absolutely essential. Our commitments to international partners must be met if we are to maintain any credibility in space cooperation. We are not always viewed as a reliable partner in such endeavors and often our political will is questionable. While there was criticism by some members of Congress of President Clinton’s decision to bring in the Russians as a key partner in building the Station, clearly it was very important to do so. Not only did Russia provide outstanding technical expertise and hardware and unprecedented experience with humans in a space environment (on space station MIR), Russia was also able to respond quickly to our need to bring back those stranded on the Station by the grounding of the Shuttle fleet, following the tragic Columbia accident, and to continue a rotation of crews so the Station can remain in operation. A second reason to complete the Space Station is to continue to gain experience with humans in space and to develop new technologies and systems that, along with the planned Shuttle upgrades, will be needed in developing a new Crew Exploration Vehicle and moving beyond low earth orbit. But, the Space Station is not finished and still presents many challenges. Our intentions, our commitment and our priorities must be clear.

Is our commitment to complete the Space Station simply tending to unfinished business, or do we still consider the Space Station and the scientific experiments we will do there among our highest priorities in human space exploration? What is our commitment beyond the construction of the Station – are we simply leaving it to our international partners to operate, while we move on to more exciting things?

New Spacecraft – The Crew Exploration Vehicle

The Space Shuttle has performed far better than its early critics predicted. That is because an enormous amount of human attention is given to keeping the Shuttles flying and the talent and skills of our astronauts. While I was in the White House, I had the privilege of visiting Johnson Space Center and observing a Shuttle Commander and Pilot going through mind-boggling malfunction scenarios on the Shuttle simulator. I came away very conscious of how good these men and women are, but also with a better appreciation of the complexity of the Shuttle, which still relies on old technology, and the very real risks to flying it. The Shuttle technical upgrades, begun in the previous Administration, are very important and should be carefully considered by NASA and the Commission as various options are examined. These upgrades have been planned not only to improve the safety and reliability of the Shuttle but also to develop new technologies and systems for future spacecraft and missions beyond Earth’s orbit. Future upgrades could include replacing solid-fuel by liquid-fuel boosters, which (flown without the Shuttle) could be important for lunar or Mars missions.

The design of the Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV) appears to be a work in progress, the intended outcome of the “spiral approach” described by the NASA Administrator. Whatever may be the detailed design, we will need a heavy-lift capability for humans and cargo. Today, the Shuttle is our heavy-lift vehicle and can carry 60,000 lbs, currently the largest payload of any of the world’s vehicles. It also has the capability to return heavy cargo to earth, a unique capability that will be greatly needed by the year 2010. Many favor the idea of a human spacecraft, e.g. the CEV, being launched on an expendable launch vehicle (ELV). We have no such human-rated rocket today. The CEV presents many challenges.

How will NASA insure that safety of the astronauts remains the top priority for the human space flight program during a time of substantial realignment of programs, reallocation of funds, and reorganization of personnel, and properly implement the recommendations of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board, chaired by Admiral Gehman? Does NASA plan to carry out the planned Shuttle upgrades and, if not all of them, which ones and on what schedule? What is NASA’s future plan for providing heavy-lift (down-mass as well as up-mass) capability? What are the arguments in favor of the plan to abandon the Shuttle four or more years before a new human spaceflight capability is in place and what are the risks? What are the arguments for and against, and tradeoffs in capability and cost, of choosing an entirely new spacecraft architecture as opposed to an architecture that makes use of a modernized Shuttle?

Return to the Moon – and Beyond

Should we go back to the moon? My answer is yes! The question is when and how? Returning to the moon must be of sufficiently high priority for the nation to justify the expenditure of the large amounts of money required, rather than using the funds to meet other vital national needs in many areas that impact the quality of life of people living on Earth – education, economy, energy, health, environment, security. Moreover, the most important “how” question is the extent to which this will be an international effort involving not only our traditional partners in space (countries of Europe, Japan, Canada and other nations that are contributing to the International Space Station), but also new space partners like China, India and Brazil. The window of opportunity to use cooperation in space to avoid conflicts in the future may not be open long; and this is an opportunity that must not be missed.

The NASA Administrator, in his comments to the press, emphasized that this is “very much going to be a U.S. – led endeavor to achieve this set of American, U.S. exploration objectives.” But, international cooperation, including Russia being placed on the critical path, has been vital to the success of the U.S. space effort.

There are many obstacles to international cooperation, including: export controls (which have seriously damaged our commercial satellite industry); the effects of the Iran Nonproliferation Act of 2000 on U.S.-Russia cooperation; and denied access to foreign students, scientists, and engineers, whom we need today in order to advance our programs in space and other technical areas. This need will only grow in the future. Without question, the U.S. must protect its citizens from attack by terrorists or other hostile forces. But, this must be done in such a way that does not damage the nation’s technical capability.

There is also reason for other nations to question U.S. policy on the future use of space, given statements made by high-level U.S. government leaders and in military strategy documents about the need to prepare for increased military activities in space. The American Academy of Sciences Committee on International Strategic Studies is carrying out a study of the technological, commercial, and political implications of U.S. policy in space, and of rules and principles for protecting a long-term balance of commercial, military, and scientific activities in space. I encourage the Administration and Congress to invite information on this important study as it may impact your decisions on future space policy.

How will the Administration insure that other nations – Russia, our European and Asian partners, perhaps China and India – are seriously engaged in the planning and realization of the President’s vision, indeed that they are able to share that vision? How will the U.S. assure the rest of the world that we continue to hold the view that space should be used for peaceful purposes?

Scientific Research and Education

Mr. Chairman, I would add a fourth goal that I consider to be at least as important to our space policy as the President’s goals:

Insure that the United States remains the world’s leader in scientific and engineering research and in educating young people for careers in science, engineering and technology.

Unless the nation has a deep understanding of physical and biological nature – on and off our planet – we will not be successful in exploring space frontiers with robots or humans. Unless we attract more young people to science and engineering, and give them a solid education, we won’t be able to do the science or the exploration.

Perhaps the greatest challenge for our space program is finding the talented people – scientists, engineers and other technical professionals – who will be needed to accomplish a bold space agenda for the nation. Careers in science and engineering are not as attractive to young people as they once were; and we are having a harder time attracting and retaining talented individuals from abroad. Universities where scientific and engineering research is strong are particularly important in addressing this technical workforce issue. I believe history has shown that the continued Federal investment in university research and graduate education is money well spent.

NASA emphasizes that the Administration’s new program is primarily not about science, but about human exploration. But, science has been one of the most important successes of the U.S. space program. New scientific knowledge as well as revolutionary technologies have been the tangible products of the nation’s investments in space and are key to NASA’s accomplishment and well-deserved reputation for excellence throughout the world. It is vital to NASA’s future that the science not be given lower priority in the new program. There are many important scientific facilities and robotic missions already planned and others not yet conceived. These unmanned missions are by far the most cost effective way to do science. My concern is that money needed for human space exploration will erode the science budgets, especially given the need for substantial reallocations of money within the NASA budget. The words science and exploration are easily confused in most people’s minds. The rationales for the Shuttle and the International Space Station were never primarily about science, but I don’t believe that message ever got through to the public.

There are examples where human exploration of space and science go hand-in-hand. Study of the effects of zero gravity on human physiology is one obvious example. Also, humans in space can be called upon to do things that otherwise would be very difficult, e.g. the successful repair and upgrade missions to the Hubble Space Telescope. It is disappointing that a decision has been made to terminate the enormously successful Hubble Space Telescope, and a planned servicing mission has been cancelled. I believe this decision ought to be reconsidered.

I would ask the following questions:

How will NASA and the Administration insure that the exploration goals of the moon-moon proposal do not cut into the science goals for NASA programs and those of other agencies? If NASA science missions are to be directed toward the goals of the moon-Mars proposal, does that mean that missions given higher priority by the science community will have lower priority by NASA? How was the Hubble cancellation decision arrived at and what was the rationale for that decision? How will NASA help the public to better understand the differences and connections between human space exploration and science and the rationales and best approaches for doing both? How will NASA strengthen its partnership with universities to support academic research and help recruit more scientists and engineers?

The Budget

Turning now to the second of the two overarching questions I posed earlier: Is the plan – including the budget – likely to accomplish these goals?

The President has proposed 5% increases each year for the next five years. Given the size of the current and future projected deficits, proposing a modest growth budget is understandable. Indeed, following many years of disappointing budgets, 5% is good news for NASA. But, I believe the expectations raised by the President in his speech, far exceed the proposed budget for this ambitious program, even for the early stages of the plan. What the President has proposed implies a major reorganization, even change in culture, of NASA and its centers.

The history of our space program has shown that coordination of activities across NASA centers and with industry remains very challenging. Significant reallocation of resources is met with strong resistance, often with the help of friends in Congress. Reorganization of NASA is probably long overdue. Furthermore, the NASA budget, especially the science budget, is severely earmarked in ways that usually do not address the agency’s top priorities and certainly limit the management flexibility of the Administrator. It will be impossible for the NASA Administrator and his NASA colleagues to make the necessary changes unless the White House and Congress support them fully.

But, even with the best intentions and dedicated hard work of the Administrator and his talented NASA team, these budgets will appear to most of America, including the U.S. space industry, and to the world as business as usual’. Unless the U.S. space plan is realistic, unless the Administration matches its rhetoric with estimated overall costs and an adequate budget, a false promise could do harm to our space efforts, dash the expectations of girls and boys who decide to become scientists and engineers in order to be a part of an exciting future in space, and seriously damage our credibility as the world’s leader in space exploration and science.

I strongly urge the Administration and Congress to work together to look at several out-year budget scenarios and compare the objectives and milestones – for human exploration and for science – under each. It may well be that the nation has the capacity, given sufficient funding, to make progress at a much faster pace than the plan has proposed, especially with serious international engagement and cooperation and making use of decades of NASA’s experience, R&D, and promising new technologies and systems ready to be employed. It may be that the risks of terminating the Shuttle program before having an alternative means to put humans in space are too great to justify this step. There are likely to be scientific opportunities on the horizon that are so compelling that they will warrant additional funding. Thus, developing accurate cost estimates and corresponding objectives and milestones for various phases of the initiative along with a transparent set of agency priorities is essential. There are several questions one might ask:

What are the estimated total costs of completing the construction of the Space Station and annual operating costs beyond that; the development, testing and commissioning of the new Crew Exploration Vehicle; robotic missions in preparation for a return to the moon; and the first human return to the moon and back? How will the $11 billion be reallocated within NASA’s budget? What changes will be made to the rest of NASA’s programs, especially the science programs, and with what levels of funding? What are the estimated costs of funding Russian or other non – U.S. flights to the Space Station after the Shuttle is phased out?


Mr. Chairman, I believe that the three goals outlined in the current Administration’s space plan are ambitious and worthy of serious consideration. And, as I have indicated, I would add a very important fourth goal: to strengthen NASA’s science program. However, the architecture of the President’s plan and overall cost have not been provided; and the five-year budget proposed to begin to accomplish these goals, in my opinion, is unrealistic. Hence, the Administration’s commitment rings hollow, inviting cynical criticism of the seriousness of the plan from our international space partners and from the American public as well. It is disappointing that two weeks after the President’s speech on space, none of the words “space”, “exploration”, or “science” appeared in the President’s state of the union message.

The nation needs to be clear about why we have humans in space. We need a renewed vision and serious plan for space, especially as our Shuttle fleet continues to age and as we complete the International Space Station. But, that vision must be more than a dream. The President has provided a part of a vision; but he has not provided the architecture or the means.

I would support real increases in the NASA budget, perhaps even larger than 5% per year. But along with that growth, NASA must be held accountable for the major reorganization that will be required and protection of its scientific programs, that are so important to the future of the nation. And the White House and the Congress will need to support the efforts of the NASA Administrator to do those things.

Therefore, Mr. Chairman, I commend this Committee for holding these hearings, listening to a wide range of views, and working with NASA, the Administration and other in Congress to insure that we do not miss this window of opportunity to move the nation into a bold new direction for space science and human exploration of space.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

SpaceRef staff editor.