Status Report

The Future of U.S. Human Space Flight, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison

By SpaceRef Editor
May 12, 2010
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The Future of U.S. Human Space Flight, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison

U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation

Statement by Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison

Full Committee Hearing on the Future of U.S. Human Space Flight
May 12, 2010

Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for holding this hearing. We are fortunate to have such an exceptional panel of witnesses.

Two of our witnesses require no introduction. Their vision and courage are legend, and upon their shoulders several generations of American astronauts have stood to reach for the Heavens. I speak, of course, of Neil Armstrong and Eugene Cernan.

We are also joined by my friend Norman Augustine, who led a review of the U.S. human space flight program; General Charles Bolden, the current NASA Administrator; and Dr. John Holdren, who heads the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

If we are to work through the difficult issues ahead to arrive at a consensus path for America’s space program, this hearing represents an excellent place to begin.

Mr. Chairman, I have said a lot in recent weeks about the President’s proposal for NASA. Many Members of Congress find serious flaws in the few areas where detailed information has been provided.

There are good reasons to have reservations about a proposal that discards billions of dollars of important technology and engineering advancements paid for by American taxpayers, and places us on a course that relies on a still developing commercial market to fill a role carried on for more than five decades by the world’s preeminent space agency.

In listening to the President and members of his Administration discuss their proposal, I have repeatedly heard the words might, could, and may to describe a bold future and the elements of a framework to get us there.

Our 40-year legacy of leadership in space is on the line and we need to have a credible plan to take the next step forward, enhancing our investment over the last four decades.

We will get to Mars by building upon our existing capabilities, including our infrastructure, prior investment, and the most skilled workforce in the world.

We do not need a Presidential Commission to manage the transition of NASA workers to other jobs, or other places. We need a plan that preserves their extraordinary talents and challenges them to work on new goals and technologies to build a bridge from where we are to where we want to be, and with the least possible risk to our exploration programs.

Every assumption in the President’s proposal that is made about the potential development of a new technology, or the emergence of a customer base beyond NASA to support a fledgling commercial space industry, is another source of risk, and another point of potential mid-program failure that could undermine our human space flight capability.

We must leverage our existing capabilities and workforce to reach our goal. That is why, for me, this discussion begins with the International Space Station (ISS), which underpins our reason to send humans into space in the short and mid-term while we work on new technologies to take use deeper into space.

Flying out the shuttle program on the current schedule BEFORE performing a comprehensive analysis of ISS equipment and part needs to extend its life until 2020, is a risk. It is particularly risky when those potential needs have not been mapped against the existing, or anticipated, cargo capabilities that will provide our only means to bring cargo to the station in a world without the space shuttle.

I have proposed stretching out the remaining shuttle missions over the next two years and adding the Launch on Need (LON) flight as an actual flight with available cargo capabilities. That would allow for the analysis and careful planning I believe is needed to minimize the risk to the ISS and bridge part of the gap to new capabilities.

The space station provides our primary reason for current and future space flight and offers almost the entire business case for many of the emerging commercial space companies in the short run. Safety has been asserted as a reason to stop the shuttles this year.

But first, I am not proposing we add more–just spread them out over a longer time frame–two years. And, second, I do not accept arguments that a Soyuz vehicle our engineers have never had access to for study and certification is safer than the space shuttle to carry our astronauts to and from the station. It is time to have an honest conversation about the space shuttle and its importance to our short term capabilities.

I am hopeful that Dr. Holdren and General Bolden can finally answer some key questions on behalf of the Administration today, including:

Have we taken every step possible to reduce the risk to the space station?

How will the technology and engineering advances from $9 billion of investment in the Constellation program be leveraged and utilized if the program is discontinued?

Why ignore the actual options laid out in the Augustine Committee report, and why wait until 2015 for the selection of heavy lift vehicle design?

What will happen if we do not have a NASA-owned and managed capability like Constellation and private providers struggle with cost overruns and ultimately fail?

Will American taxpayers have to bail out these companies? What other option would we have at that point except to continue paying whatever it takes to build the vehicles?

Why not reform NASA’s contracting practices rather than putting all our emphasis on a still developing commercial sector that may not be able to deliver?

Mr. Chairman, those are just a few of my questions. Between the proposal I have advanced, the thoughts of other members, and the recommendations in the Augustine report, there are many ideas about how to reach bold new goals in manned space exploration.

The burden lies with the Administration to demonstrate why the President’s proposal is superior to all of these other ideas.

American exceptionalism demands more…. the brave men and women that climb aboard rockets to explore the frontiers of space require more…. and, future generations of American children deserve more!

Thank you again for holding this hearing. I look forward to the testimony.

SpaceRef staff editor.