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Senator Hutchison Expresses Concern at Possible International Space Station Research Suspension by NASA

Press Release From: Sen. Hutchison
Posted: Friday, August 11, 2006

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WASHINGTON – This week, U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), Chairman of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Science and Space, in a letter to NASA Administrator Dr. Michael Griffin expressed concern that NASA may be considering suspension of International Space Station (ISS) research for up to a year. Senators Bill Nelson (D-FL), Richard Shelby (R-AL), and Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) co-signed the letter. The text of the letter follows:

Dear Dr. Griffin:

We are writing to express concerns at recent reports that NASA is considering the suspension of International Space Station (ISS) research for at least a year and as much as three years. We are well aware that NASA has been operating within a severely constrained resource environment at the same time it is undertaking the new activities contemplated by the Vision for Space Exploration.

As you know, the NASA Authorization Act of 2005, enacted by Congress last year and signed into law by the President in December, strongly endorses the Vision for Space Exploration as representing an important new challenge and new direction for NASA. This legislation underscores the importance of fulfilling our nation’s current space exploration programs and meeting our commitments to our international partners. This is consistent with the first two steps of the Vision for Exploration: 1) returning the space shuttle to flight and 2) completing the International Space Station.

The recent successful STS-121 mission demonstrated NASA’s readiness to return the space shuttle program to operational status and continue the assembly of the ISS, and we applaud NASA’s efforts and achievements in reaching that important milestone. We now look forward to the continuation of the ISS assembly and the expansion of the space station research capabilities.

The NASA Authorization Act also makes very clear the congressional interest in ensuring that the nation receives the maximum return on its investment in the space station. The designation of the US Segment as a National Laboratory and the requirement for NASA to prepare an implementation plan for that laboratory function, due by the end of this year, are indicative of that strong interest and policy guidance to NASA. In addition, the requirement that fifteen percent of the ISS research budget be allocated to non-exploration-related research, beginning with FY 2006, is further indication of the desire to make the fullest possible use of the ISS as a unique research platform and national asset.

Given this specific congressional expression and guidance, as embodied in P.L. 109-155, we are very concerned, therefore, to hear that consideration is being given within NASA to not only reduce, but to stop ISS research altogether for some period of time.

For FY2007, the Senate Appropriations Committee has reported a bill that fully funds the request for the ISS, including the very research that is now reportedly at risk. Further, the Appropriations Committee added an additional $1,000,000,000 in funding for NASA to alleviate the funding effects as a result of the Columbia accident. It is difficult to understand why, with such support from the Senate and the potential for a sizeable increase above the request for NASA, such a drastic measure is being contemplated at this time.

We understand that such consideration may simply be an element of internal contingency planning, designed to address various anticipated outcomes of the FY 2007 appropriations process. Naturally, the Agency is expected to develop such plans to address alternative circumstances. However, we want to make it clear that any option to further reduce, or curtail altogether, research aboard the ISS would be an unacceptable option and entirely inconsistent with the policy guidance enacted by the Congress, as well as, we believe, the intent of the Vision for Exploration.

If NASA needs to find savings in FY 2007, or needs to restore depleted Space Station reserves, it should not be looking to take those funds from the very realm of activity that the Space Station is intended to support and the very foundation of congressional support for the space station over the past twenty-two years.

Sincerely,

Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) - Bill Nelson (D-FL)
Richard Shelby (R-AL) - Barbara Mikulski (D-MD)

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