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Rep. Calvert Responds to Critics of Discovery Launch

Press Release From: Rep. Calvert
Posted: Friday, June 30, 2006

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Congressman Ken Calvert provides the following response to the Los Angeles Times June 29, 2006 editorial, "Abort this space shuttle mission."

Americans can only take cold comfort in the Los Angeles Times' belief that "A six year gap in manned space flight shouldn't be discouraging" (LAT "Abort this space shuttle mission" June 29, 2006) mainly because it isn't true. Human spaceflights will continue over the next six years - - they'll just be done by Taikonauts and Cosmonauts, not American Astronauts. America's manned space program is at a crossroads and it doesn't deserve a slap in the face at this critical juncture. It is time to determine if the Shuttle program will be able to complete its remaining 16 flights before the program ends in 2010 - a time for courage and resolve.

As Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics, it is my responsibility to coordinate Congressional oversight of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Since the tragedy of Columbia in 2003, I have closely monitored the progress of NASA as it undertook an agonizing self-analysis in the aftermath of the accident and in its restructuring and rebuilding under NASA Administrator Michael Griffin. What happened to Columbia exposed flaws in the basic design of the Shuttle to be sure, but it also highlighted a flawed organizational culture that turned a blind eye to repeated signals that something was wrong with the Space Shuttle system.

NASA is still working on the foam problem, but the problem is much more understood now and there are safeguards in place to ensure that shedding foam will not endanger the crew. Discovery's flight is a test flight to see how the foam fixes developed so far will work. But more importantly, it is a test of NASA's organizational culture. All indications are that the safety culture of NASA is working well thus far throughout the pre-launch process. Two senior members of the Final Flight Readiness Review did not recommend a launch at this time. Their concerns were given due consideration by the Administrator when he made his decision to proceed with the launch. Unlike with Columbia's mission, the process was transparent and consultative throughout. The Administrator has received the entire spectrum of NASA opinion about the launch. He has taken this information, weighed the risks, and made a decision that he believes is the best one for America's Space Program. That's what we pay him for.

The Shuttle is far from a perfect system. The decision to retire it in 2010 is based on a combination of the Shuttle's age and design, the need to complete the International Space Station (ISS), and the necessity of transitioning the NASA workforce and facilities to support the new Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV). The longer we delay completing Discovery's test flight the less time remains to fly the remaining missions.

But until the CEV is available sometime after 2012, the Shuttle is the only system the U.S. has to send people into space. Even if the Shuttle was retired tomorrow, the CEV will not be ready much sooner. Americans should not be not comfortable with allowing six or more years to pass with only China and Russia having a human space flight capability.

Human space flight is an inherently risky business. Administrator Griffin, the crew of Discovery, and the men and women of NASA understand that fact. If Discovery's test flight fails to safely complete its mission, the Shuttle era will be over. If it succeeds, America's manned space program will be able to conduct a rational transition to the next generation space vehicle. Let's give NASA the chance to succeed.

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