Status Report

Testimony of William Readdy at Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee Hearings: “International Space Station”

By SpaceRef Editor
October 29, 2003
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Given at a Science, Technology, and Space Hearing:

International Space Station

Wednesday, October 29 2003 – 2:00 PM – SR- 253

The Testimony of

Mr. William F. Readdy

Associate Administrator for Space Flight, National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee, my colleagues Bryan O’Connor, Associate Administrator for Safety and Mission Assurance, Mary Kicza, Associate Administrator for Biological and Physical Research, Dr. Richard Williams, Chief Health and Medical Officer, and I appreciate the opportunity to appear before you today to discuss the status of the International Space Station (ISS) and the impact the Columbia accident has had on ISS operations.

On February 1, 2003 we lost the crew of the Space Shuttle Columbia. These were my friends and colleagues. I, along with the entire NASA family, will work tirelessly to honor their memory. We are dedicated to improving our programs and our Agency, while we safely return the Shuttle to flight and maintain the ISS in orbit. We will continue the mission of human exploration and discovery, to which the crew of the Space Shuttle Columbia committed their lives, and continue to learn through this tragic experience, so that one day the risks of human space flight will be reduced to a level similar to conventional transportation vehicles.

I also want to recognize the families of the Columbia crew for their strength and continued support of our historic endeavor. Their contribution to the mission has been the most dear and their fortitude is exemplary to all of us who will press onward in respect for their courage.

Current Status

As a result of the Columbia accident on February 1, 2003, the Space Shuttle fleet has been temporarily grounded. The International Partnership has fully embraced the challenge of keeping the ISS crewed and supplied while the Space Shuttle Program works through and implements the needed changes. The Partners have met frequently at the technical and management levels to coordinate efforts toward maintaining a safe, functional research platform. These meetings have focused the resolve of an international community engaged in one of the most illustrious models of global cooperation for peaceful purposes.

In late February, the ISS Partnership agreed to an interim operational plan that will allow crewed operations to continue. This plan called for a reduction of the crew size to two and for crew exchanges to be conducted on the previously scheduled semi-annual Soyuz flights. This reduction was required to keep adequate food and water reserves and live within the consumables that could be supplied by Progress vehicles. It also called for additional Progress vehicles over the 2003-2004 timeframe. In response, Russian Soyuz and Progress vehicles have succeeded in providing reliable crew and cargo access to and from the ISS to date. We remain confident these vehicles will continue to carry out their critical mission until the Space Shuttle Fleet returns to flight.

On orbit, the ISS is demonstrating its capability to operate safely. The sub-system redundancies that have been fundamental to the design since its earliest phases, in combination with the orbital replacement unit (ORU) architecture, have consistently proven their worth. We have found the ISS to be a highly reliable and maintainable platform that is exceeding our originally conservative engineering projections. ORU failures are lower than first projected and backup sub-systems are reliably coming on line in response to need. Numerous specific examples are available to substantiate this experience. On occasion, we have experienced anomalies with lower criticality level components; however, the Progress resupply missions have enabled replacement in such instances.

With respect to consumable commodities, our conservation efforts have been very successful. Original conservative projections indicated water to be our most critical consumable. This condition arose because the visiting Space Shuttles previously supplied surplus water to the ISS as a by-product of their on-board fuel cell electrolysis process. Water remains our most critical consumable; however, close management and periodic Progress re-supply missions have alleviated the severity of this challenge. Our current estimates for future water consumption are now based on actual operating experience since the Columbia accident. We are closely monitoring this key provision and plan to adjust our Progress re-supply mission requirements in CY 2004 to reflect the improved conditions. All experience clearly indicates the ISS is operating in a reliably stable and consistently safe mode.

On October 20, the Expedition 8 crew, U.S. Commander Michael Foale and Russian Flight Engineer Alexander Kaleri, arrived at their new home orbiting at about 230 miles above the Earth. They were joined by European Space Agency taxi astronaut Pedro Duque, who spent 8 days aboard the Station engaged in a variety of research tasks. The Expedition 7 crew, Commander Yuri Malenchenko and U.S. Science Officer Ed Lu, along with Pedro Duque, were returned safely to Earth on October 28. Lu and Malenchenko traveled nearly 73 million miles during their six-month stay aboard the ISS, 22 million miles further than the distance between the Earth and Mars.

NASA and its International Partners continue to build, integrate, and prepare flight hardware according to the Program’s original schedules. This past Summer, NASA’s European-built Node 2 and the Japanese Experiment Module (JEM) arrived for processing at Kennedy Space Center (KSC) and by Fall, these important elements had successfully completed the third stage of Multiple Element Integration Testing. With these arrivals, the Space Station Processing Facility (SSPF) at Kennedy Space Center is once again packed to capacity with ISS flight hardware, much the same as it was during the 18-month gap that occurred following ISS First Element Launch (FEL). Today there are more than 80,000 pounds of ISS flight hardware waiting for Space Shuttle integration and an additional 102,000 pounds in preparation for integration at the SSPF. The ISS Program will once again be at an extraordinarily high state of readiness to resume assembly when the Space Shuttle fleet resumes service. With these arrivals, we look forward to the day when the ISS is completed and allowed to demonstrate its research potential. In the meantime, all of the International Partners continue to collaborate on how to best support near-term ISS on-orbit operations until the Space Shuttle returns to flight. The first two Shuttle flights, STS-114, LF-1 and STS-121, ULF-1.1, will carry out key activities related to Shuttle return to flight, as well as support ISS logistics and utilization. Once we have completed these two missions and fully implemented any necessary changes to ensure risks have been minimized to the lowest possible level, assembly will resume with Shuttle flight 12A.

The Space Shuttle fleet is essential for completing the construction phase of the ISS. Nonetheless, we are assessing long-term options for alternate crew and cargo access to the ISS.

Activities in Response to the Columbia Accident Investigation Board

The Columbia Accident Investigation Board (CAIB) addressed the causes of the Columbia accident and has thoroughly documented its findings. The Space Shuttle Return to Flight Planning Team is now focused on the necessary changes to the Space Shuttle Program based on the CAIB’s comprehensive report and our own efforts to “raise the bar.” The CAIB report also contains areas applicable to NASA activities broader than the Shuttle Program. Recognizing this, the ISS Continuing Flight Team (CFT) was chartered, immediately following release of the report, to review all CAIB recommendations, observations, and findings for applicability to the ISS Program. This team will ensure that all necessary steps are taken to apply the lessons learned from the Columbia accident to the ongoing operation of the ISS. Representatives from all NASA field centers supporting human space flight, as well the astronaut and safety assurance offices, are members of the team. The ISS Program Office will also serve as the liaison to the International Partners, in order to draw all parties engaged in ISS operations into the effort.

While the CAIB was conducting its investigation of the Columbia accident, the ISS Program had already begun an intensive effort to examine its processes and risks with the objective of identifying the existence of any risk that has not already been reduced to the lowest possible level and ensuring focused management attention on the residual risks that cannot be eliminated. As the findings of the CAIB emerged, they were continuously assessed by the ISS Program for applicability. Some of these continuous improvement initiatives already underway since the Columbia accident were consistent with CAIB findings, while some were a direct result of the experience the ISS Program has gained from three years of crewed operations. The first release of the CFT Implementation Plan documents the status of responses to the CAIB Recommendations, as well that of the ISS Continuous Improvement initiatives.

Flight Readiness for ISS Expedition 8

A Stage Operations Readiness Review (SORR) routinely precedes all ISS Flight Readiness Reviews (FRRs). During the increment 8 SORR a wide range of cost, schedule and technical elements were examined in depth. Included among these was the status of the ISS on board environmental monitoring system, which provides very high accuracy information on atmospheric composition and presence of trace elements. The current system is not operating at full capacity and the need to replace it on an upcoming Progress re-supply mission was discussed. This requirement was formally accepted, without issue, at the subsequent FRR. The associated risk level was determined acceptable, since prior atmospheric measurements indicated no deviations from normal; Russian on-board monitoring systems indicated no deviations; and the crew was not experiencing any indication of changes in the cabin environment. In addition, the status of crew health countermeasures was reviewed at the SORR. These countermeasures include the use of an on board treadmill and associated resistive exercise devices. Each of these devices was operating at various degrees of reduced capacity and needed to be repaired, upgraded or replaced. Evaluations weighing potential equipment maintenance actions against upcoming replacement opportunities were underway.

At the October 2 Expedition 8 FRR, each subsystem was reviewed for safety and performance capability. During this free and open review, individuals with dissenting opinions were encouraged to come forward with all information pertinent to the decision process. Those who did were commended for their diligence and participation. Their positions were taken very seriously and analyzed in the total context of the decision by experienced subject area experts. Based on the review process, the FRR culminated in a Certification of Flight Readiness, which validated that the Expedition 8 was ready for launch and the Increment. In addition to the multilateral FRR process, a special task force of the NASA Advisory Council independently reviewed the safety and operational readiness of the ISS, the flight readiness of the Expedition 8 crew, and the Russian flight control team’s preparedness to accomplish the upcoming mission. This U.S. – Russian Joint Commission, chaired by Lieutenant General T.P. Stafford and Academician N.A. Anfimov, found the crew to be fully trained and medically certified. They also reported the ISS to be safe and operationally ready to support crew arrival.

Subsequent to these comprehensive reviews by subject area experts, the ISS Program conducted yet another full program review in the final days before 7S Soyuz launch. The purpose of this additional review was to check the progress of actions underway and ensure all possible steps were in motion to guarantee a successful and hazard-free mission. As a result of these multiple reviews, we are highly confident that mitigation plans are proceeding as planned to reduce and closely manage the remaining risks. The entire ISS team has participated in these open communications forums and all are in agreement that the most judicious and effective path to maintaining crew safety and spacecraft survivability is the path we are currently pursuing.

ISS Research Progress

The ISS Program is taking advantage of every opportunity to manifest research, supplies, and experiments on the Russian Soyuz and Progress vehicles. The opportunities have allowed investigations to continue in bioastronautics and physical sciences. We have collaborated with our International Partners to share hardware, in order to optimize the overall research output on the ISS under the constrained conditions that resulted from the grounding of the Space Shuttle fleet. Despite these conditions, the research program continues to progress. As of the end of August 2003, approximately 1,551 hours of combined crew time have been dedicated to research and approximately 74 investigations have been initiated or completed. During Increment 7, the ISS crew averaged 10 hours per week performing research tasks.

Today, undergraduate and graduate students and academic and industrial scientists at U.S. research institutions around the country are at work developing approximately 1,000 projects in support of the ISS research program. These students are the U.S. scientists and technologists of the future working under the tutelage of experienced scientists with a vision for the future. Our objective is to reach out still further, through avenues like a new research institute that will one day manage an investigator cadre for the ISS similar to that which Space Telescope Science Institute currently does for the Hubble. This planned development will open direct participation in the space program to more Americans than ever and transform young people’s fascination with space into longstanding careers in innovative science and technology.

The International Space Station is not only a platform for research, but also a demonstration of the potential for international cooperation, exploration and discovery. Indicative of this are experiments currently underway in the Granada Crystallization Facility. This facility was built in Europe, has a principal investigator funded by Japan, and is housed under temperature-controlled conditions in the Commercial Generic Bioprocessing Apparatus, which is provided by a U.S. commercial research partnership. Such collaborative endeavors are increasing as the ISS comes of age and the research potential is revealed with each stage of growing capability.

Projects like Peter Cavanaugh’s experiments on astronaut bone loss in space, and the effectiveness of exercise in reducing the tendency to lose mass from bones that on Earth bear our weight, but in space have very little to do. Professor Cavanaugh is the chair of the Biomedical Engineering Department at the Cleveland Clinic. His research is helping medical science understand the mechanisms that lead to the loss of bone mass and strength. In his case the direct cause is the weightless environment, but the knowledge this research will produce may contribute to the development of more effective therapies for bone degeneration faced by the 44 million of Americans who, according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, have either low bone mass or osteoporosis.

Industry-sponsored experiments are also being conducted that might have an impact on bone loss treatments, plant growth, pharmaceutical production, and petroleum refining. Some of the first ISS experiments are ongoing and some have already returned to Earth. Detailed post-flight analysis continues, while the future continues to hold promise for growth in applications as the ISS capability approaches full fruition.

Recent fluid physics experiments on the Shuttle and on the ISS looked at colloidal systems, small particles that are suspended in liquids. Professor Alice Gast, the vice president for Research at MIT is doing research on magnetic colloids and Professor David Weitz of Harvard University and Professor William Russell, Dean of the graduate school at Princeton University are collaborating on colloid research looking at fundamental structures in these types of materials. Each of these experiments has yielded unexpected results that could never have been observed on earth. According to Professor Weitz, the ISS research led to his group’s work that was published very recently in Science:

The [colloidisome] structures we make here are inspired very much by what we learn from our ISS work, and we are following this up to investigate better drug encapsulation and delivery mechanisms. Some offshoots of this work are also summarized in two of our other papers about making delivery structures from colloidal particles.

Other practical uses of colloids in the long term include faster computers and communication.

Equally as interesting, Dr. Rafat Ansari of NASA, who worked with these experiments, found an unusual use for one of its instruments. When his father developed cataracts, which are assemblies of small particles in the eye, Dr. Ansari realized that the instrument being developed as part of the colloids experiment might be able to detect these cataracts – possibly earlier than ever before. The device is now in clinical trials with a National Institute of Health/NASA collaboration to assess the effectiveness of new, non-surgical therapies for early stages of cataract development. Cataracts affect 50 million people annually. The NIH highlighted this collaborative NIH/NASA research to Congress in 2001 as a key technology for them. The instrument is also being adapted as a pain-free way to identify other eye diseases, diabetes, and possibly even Alzheimer’s. Perhaps most poignant is the fact that Dr. Ansari was inspired to pursue scientific research by a single moment in his life – when, as a small boy in Pakistan, he saw people walk on the moon. It shows once more what we have said all along: human space flight produces and inspires more than just high quality science.

The Research Maximization And Prioritization (ReMAP) Task Force established priorities and goals for NASA’s Office of Biological and Physical Research (OBPR) and for ISS research across disciplines. The findings and recommendations of its report provide a framework for prioritizing a productive research program for OBPR and for the ISS. The committee was unanimous in the view that the ISS is unprecedented as a laboratory and is the only available platform for human tended research on long-duration effects of microgravity. In several areas of biological and physical research, solutions to important questions require microgravity. ISS provides a unique environment for attacking these problems “as only NASA can.” We have testimonials to this, not only from independent ReMAP members, but also from the National Research Council, various technical societies, and Nobel Laureates.

In fact, Nobel Laureate, Dr. Samuel C.C. Ting, Cabot professor of Physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, along with his distinguished colleagues, recently captured the essence of the national policy challenge in a letter to President George Bush:

The value and interest of the human explorations of space, for which the space station is essential, has been put forth with considerable clarity and power in the debates taking place since the Columbia disaster; however, we believe that a narrow view has dominated the debates about the scientific importance of the ISS. The debate has focused on the earliest work without properly considering the great potential and crucial importance of the Space Station for future science.


The ISS program is taking all steps necessary to be ready to resume ISS research outfitting and final assembly when the Space Shuttle Fleet is certified to safely return to flight. While the necessary corrective actions are being taken, productive research is continuing on orbit and we are safely exchanging crews for continued operations.

I was inspired by a quote inscribed on the wall of the Great Hall in the Library of Congress, from Edward Young’s Night Thoughts. “Too low they build, who build beneath the stars.” We are truly the architects of our future, building a base for our children’s exploration and discovery among the stars. There are those who advocate NASA should have a goal for space travel by humans to other parts of the solar system. It must be stressed by us, and recognized at large, that the ISS is the gateway to exploration beyond low Earth orbit. NASA’s current draft of a Critical Path Roadmap of challenges addresses the following risks associated with long-term crew health and safety in space: the effects of radiation, physiological changes, medical practice problems, and behavior and performance problems. Reducing these risks will be accomplished by identifying and developing countermeasures where applicable. Virtually all of these challenges will require research from experiments that can best be carried out on the ISS. I’d like to thank Mr. Li, for his General Accounting Office assessment of the ISS, and Mr. Zygielbaum, for his work with the Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel, for providing their respective assessments of NASA’s programs. I would also like to thank Dr. Pawelczyk and Dr. Park for their perspectives on the ISS research.

Mr. Chairman, members of the committee, thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today. My colleagues and I are prepared to address your questions.

SpaceRef staff editor.