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NASA's Future Space Transportation Plan Lacks Clear Goals and Vision

Press Release From: House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology
Posted: Thursday, May 8, 2003

Committee Member calls for ending manned shuttle flights

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Citing a lack of specific goals and a broad vision, Members of a key House Subcommittee expressed frustration over NASA's proposed new Integrated Space Transportation Plan (ISTP) and Orbital Space Plane (OSP).  They also echoed witness concerns that the current plan gives the U.S. few capabilities above what is currently available and will come at an undetermined cost.

"In light of NASA's track record for developing space transportation systems, I welcomed the restructuring of the Space Launch Initiative as a positive step towards making good on the promise of cheap, reliable, and safe access to space," said Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics Chairman Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA).  "As we begin to peel back the layers, however, NASA's proposed plan appears to be just another initiative that is long on promises and short on likely results.  That simply won't cut it any more with this subcommittee."

Michael D. Griffin, President and Chief Operating Officer of In-Q-Tel testified, "The proposed ISTP can only be seen as far too conservative.  It is not so much wrong, as it is incomplete.  If fully realized, it would leave us with little more capability than we have today to go beyond Earth orbit.  It would do nothing soon to reduce the cost of space access.  It would saddle us for the next two decades with continued primary reliance on the Shuttle, which is by any reasoned measure the riskiest element in the system.  Surely we can do better."

The need for NASA to quickly define the next generation of space transportation vehicles was highlighted as Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) called on NASA to cease flying astronauts in the Space Shuttle and use its resources to focus on future vehicles.  "An accident rate of one every 62 and a half missions if 14 Americans have lost their lives is not acceptable.  And it's my opinion that we can't make the existing orbiter as safe as it needs to be," said Barton.  "I think we ought to scrap that program.  I think we ought to spend the money on building the best technology orbiter or space plane that we have.  If it takes ten years to do it, so be it.  We put a man on the moon between 1961 and 1969 in the Apollo program.  We certainly have the technology to do something similar today, if we were to decide we want to put the resources into it."

In lieu of manned shuttle missions, Barton questioned whether NASA could modify the shuttle to be an autonomous vehicle to fly unmanned cargo delivery missions..  Dr. Jerry Grey, Director of Science and Technology Policy, at the American Institute for Aeronautics and Astronautics testified that it is technically feasible since nearly 98 percent of the shuttle's flight was automated already.  As a cargo delivery system, the shuttle could be operated at a far reduced cost Grey added.

Members also expressed skepticism over NASA's plans for a crew return vehicle.  Under the ISTP, the Orbital Space Plane is scheduled to provide crew return capabilities by 2010, however, the Russian Soyuz commitment ends in 2006.  When questioned on how NASA planned to bridge the gap, NASA Deputy Administrator Fred Gregory told the Subcommittee that an agreement had been reached with international partners that the Russians would continue to prove crew return capabilities for three astronauts in Soyuz vehicles until the U.S. could take over.  Former NASA Deputy Administrator, and Apollo Program Manager Mr. Dale Myers, testified on his team's assessment that crew return and crew tranfer using an Apollo-derived concept with a Command and Service Module, warranted serious detailed study.  He added that it could be a favored approach in any eventual plan to return to the Moon.

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