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Subcommittee Emphasizes Need for Safety and Transparency in Commercial Crew Program

Press Release From: House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology Democrats
Posted: Friday, February 27, 2015

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Today the Science, Space, and Technology's Subcommittee on Space held a hearing titled, "The Commercial Crew Program: Challenges and Opportunities," to review the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) efforts to develop and acquire safe, reliable, and affordable crew transfer services to the International Space Station (ISS).

Last September, NASA established contracts with Space Exploration Technologies and The Boeing Corporation to finalize designs, undertake full development, and carry out the milestones needed to complete NASA's certification requirements to carry NASA and NASA-sponsored astronauts to and from the ISS. The contracts have the goal of achieving certification for commercial crew transportation services by 2017.

Members of the Subcommittee raised a number of concerns including the lack of transparency regarding cost and safety; how NASA and industry are establishing a safety culture; and whether the 2017 goal is realistic and what the contingency plans are if that date would slip.

Ranking Member of the Space Subcommittee, Donna F. Edwards (D-MD), said of the cost transparency, "NASA is requesting $1.2 billion for the Commercial Crew Program for Fiscal Year 2016, an increase of over $400 million from the FY 2015 enacted level.  However, the Committee, despite having asked, has no independent external analysis by which to evaluate whether NASA's budget requests for the commercial crew program are on target, and whether the amount the taxpayers are being asked to pay is too much, too little, or about right."

Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) in her statement for the record stressed that the independent Aerospace Advisory Panel (ASAP) must have access to information in order to carry out its congressionally mandated responsibilities. She said, "We should not lose sight of the fact that routine access to space is hard. Nor should we forget the painful lessons NASA has learned along the way to mitigate the risks of sending humans beyond the confines of Earth's surface. I am not comfortable, nor am I pleased, that ASAP, Congress's safety adviser, was denied access to key information before contracts were awardedClearly, this is troublesome. If NASA is to convince Congress that the two commercial crew transportation systems are safe, it must provide ASAP with information, by which the Panel can make objective assessments."

Vice Admiral Joseph Dyer, Chairman of the Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel, said, "Regrettably, the Panel is unable to offer any informed opinion regarding the adequacy of the certification process or the sufficiency of safety in the Commercial Crew Program due to constraints placed on access to needed informationThe Panel is concerned that this lack of candor is not limited to interactions with the ASAP and may extend to other internal and external stakeholders. This issue is reminiscent of the problems that were explicitly identified by both the Rogers Commission and the Columbia Accident Investigation Board (CAIB) regarding causes of the Space Shuttle Challenger and Columbia mishaps respectively." In response to questioning from Congresswoman Edwards, NASA committed to providing full and unfettered access to the information from this point forward.

Democratic Members also discussed a range of other issues, including such things as whether NASA will extend the contract for seats on the Soyuz for 2017 and beyond, how international relations are affecting the relationship with Russia's space program, and how long it would take to incorporate and human-rate a new U.S. engine to replace Russian engines used on the Atlas 5 vehicle.

Congresswoman Edwards said, "I want NASA and its commercial partners to succeed so that NASA and the nation will regain human spaceflight access to low-Earth orbit once again. Yet I also want to understand what the taxpayers are paying for and the terms and conditions involved."

Witnesses

Mr. Bill Gerstenmaier, Associate Administrator, Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)

Vice Admiral Joseph Dyer, USN (Ret.), Chairman, Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)

Mr. John Mulholland, Vice President and Program Manager, Commercial Programs, The Boeing Company

Dr. Garrett Reisman, Director, Crew Operations, Space Exploration Technologies Corporation

Please visit our website:  http://democrats.science.house.gov

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