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Opening Statement by Rep. Mark Udall House Science Committee Hearing: "Status of NASA's Programs"

Press Release From: Rep. Mark Udall
Posted: Thursday, November 3, 2005

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November 3, 2005

Good morning. I want to join my colleagues in welcoming Administrator Griffin to today's hearing.

We have a great number of issues to examine this morning, so I will be brief in my opening remarks.

However, before I begin, I would like to dispose of one "housekeeping" matter. Specifically, Dr. Griffin, it is now almost two months since I submitted some questions for the record to NASA following your last appearance before the Committee. It was not until yesterday that we received the responses.

As I think you can appreciate, it is difficult for us to exercise our oversight responsibilities properly without timely responses from the agency. That said, I'd now like to turn to today's hearing, and I want to echo Ranking Member Gordon's concerns.

I remain a supporter of NASA's exploration program. I think it is important for the nation's human space flight program to have challenging goals beyond low Earth orbit, and I support a step-by-step approach to achieving those goals.

However, I continue to be troubled by the cuts NASA is making to other vital NASA missionsócuts that call into serious question the premise that the exploration Vision as currently implemented is truly "affordable".

Let me cite just a few examples. First, there is the situation facing NASA's life science program in particular, and Space Station research in general. NASA has now decided to eliminate the life sciences centrifuge that had until now been a centerpiece of the ISS research program as well as a U.S. commitment to the international partnership.

In addition, NASA is making deep and perhaps irreversible cuts to NASA's life science program. And NASA has decided that it will no longer support fundamental and other non-exploration-related microgravity research on the ISSóeven though NASA has long justified the nation's investment in the ISS in part on the basis of the terrestrial benefits to be derived from such research.

NASA's actions are particularly troubling given the language on the importance of that research and the need for NASA to maintain its commitment to it that is contained in both the House- and Senate-passed versions of the NASA Authorization.

Second, despite the best intentions of Administrator Griffin, I am worried that NASA is going to have great difficulty in keeping a vital and robust set of space and Earth science missions on track in a tightly constrained NASA budgetary environment as those missions inevitably have to compete with the growing demands of the human exploration initiative.

I hope I am wrongóbecause NASA's science programs, as well as the university research activities that they support, are in many ways NASA's "crown jewels" in the eyes of the general public. But I remain worried.

Finally, I have to express my continued concern over the state of NASA's aeronautics program. I am aware that NASA has once again changed the management of that program, and I want to wish the new Associate Administrator well.

However, it is clear that under the Administration's current budgetary plan her task will be to manage a budget that will continue to decline for the rest of the decade. Moreover, while I am encouraged that NASA recognizes the importance of rebuilding its fundamental research and technology program in aeronautics, the budgetary constraints imposed on the aeronautics program would appear to make that rebuilding come at the cost of significantly shrinking NASA R&D that is more directly relevant to the needs of the aviation industry and society as a whole. That makes little sense to me, and I hope that NASA will embrace a more balanced portfolio.

Well, there is much more to discuss, but I think it is more important at this point for us to hear from the Administrator. So I will again extend a warm welcome to Dr. Griffin, and I yield back the balance of my time.

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