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Orbital Space Plane: Boehlert and Hall Respond to New O'Keefe Letter

Press Release From: House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology
Posted: Wednesday, October 29, 2003

WASHINGTON, D.C. - NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe today sent a response to House Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert's (R-NY) and Ranking Democrat Ralph Hall's (D-TX) October 21st letter, expressing their concerns with the Orbital Space Plane (OSP) program. A copy of the Boehlert/Hall letter can be found [here] and Administrator O'Keefe's response from today is attached.

After receiving O'Keefe's letter, Boehlert and Hall issued the following statement:

"Unfortunately, NASA's response does not directly address either of the concerns we raised in our letter. It does not explain how the Orbital Space Plane fits into an overall vision for the human space flight program, but rather acknowledges that such a vision is still being developed. It does not explain why the spending proposals for OSP are credible, but rather suggests that Congress continue spending now and make decisions about the program later. Such an approach has not proven to be a successful way to proceed. This is another area needing change. In particular, NASA has not provided an FY 2004 budget request consistent with the funding requirements of its accelerated program.

"Once again, as we said in our original letter, we urge NASA 'to defer the current program until the interagency space review is completed, approved by the President and thoroughly vetted with the Congress.' At that point, if the Administration decides to proceed with the OSP, we hope NASA will submit a credible funding request for the program."


National Aeronautics and
Space Administration

Office of the Administrator
Washington DC 20546-0001

October 29, 2003

The Honorable Sherwood Boehlert
Chairman
Committee on Science
House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515

Dear Chairman Boehlert:

Thank you for your letter of October 21, 2003, regarding the Orbital Space Plane (OSP) program. I want to assure you that NASA will only proceed with OSP development consistent with the Administration program and Congressional support. Nothing is currently underway that would foreclose that condition.

Pursuant to the President's FY 2003 budget amendment, Congress provided initial funding for the OSP. Following the loss of Columbia, NASA took steps to enable acceleration of the OSP crew rescue capability to as early as 2008, followed by crew transfer capability. This is consistent with the statement in the Columbia Accident Investigation Board Report that "it is in the National interest to replace the Shuttle as soon as possible as the primary means for transporting humans o and from Earth orbit."

The resources in NASA's FY 2004 budget request are sufficient to allow NASA to position itself for the option to accelerate the OSP consistent with the observations of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board and desires previously expressed by some Members of Congress. At this time, NASA does not plan to select a team to develop and build an OSP before August 2004. In addition, the Administration is reviewing the overall plan for a crew transfer vehicle to the International Space Station (ISS) in light of overall U.S. space exploration goals,. As part of the FY 2005 budget process. This planning horizon will permit ample tie for Congress to fully consider this important endeavor.

NASA requires the entire OSP system-including vehicle, booster and supporting infrastructure-to be significantly safer than current space transportation systems. The program requires crew survivability during launch and reentry and emergency crew rescue capability from the ISS. These are significant steps toward the primary goal of achieving safer human space flight. We would be glad to provide an in-depth review of all OSP safety features that are planned, an under consideration , for the Committee.

The debate on the OSP program and its role as part of this overall plan will and should continue, and we are doing nothing that will foreclose that debate. I look forward to a continuing dialogue with you and the Committee on the OSP program.

Cordially

Sean O'Keefe
Administrator

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