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O'Keefe Lays Out Timeframe for Decisions on Key NASA Programs

Press Release From: House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology
Posted: Wednesday, February 27, 2002

Administrator Affirms NASA Commitment to Science

WASHINGTON, D.C. - At a House Science Committee hearing today, NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe said that by this summer NASA will announce how much it will cost to reach the "core complete" stage of the International Space Station - a key factor in determining whether the space station will be expanded beyond that point.

In response to questioning from Members on numerous ongoing studies of NASA programs, O'Keefe also said that a report on Space Shuttle privatization will be completed by the end of September and that parts of the Strategic Resources Review would be released over the next several months

O'Keefe's testimony at the Science Committee hearing on the proposed NASA budget for fiscal year 2003 was his first Congressional appearance since taking over as head of the space agency eight weeks ago. O'Keefe stressed the importance of managing costs in other areas of the agency to free up money for scientific research. "The more we can achieve efficiency in capacity costs, the more we can put into science," he said.

"I share Mr. O'Keefe's vision of shaping NASA into a well managed, affordable, science-driven agency," said Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY). "And I think he has been raising the right questions to try to figure out how to structure NASA to be a vital agency for the foreseeable future. The frustration for us is that, of necessity, many of the answers to those questions are not yet in. We need to work together to find those answers this year."

Ranking Democrat Ralph M. Hall (D-TX) said, "Even after today's in-depth hearing, I still don't know what NASA's plan is for the International Space Station. At a minimum, the Administration needs to declare unambiguously and immediately that it is committed to completing the Space Station as defined in the international agreements governing the program. Without such a commitment, it becomes very difficult to convince American taxpayers that the billions of dollars invested in the Station have been worthwhile."

"It is going to take a concerted effort on the part of Congress and the Bush Administration to ensure programs like Space Launch Initiative, Mars Exploration, and Human Space Flight fully benefit the American people. I am extremely pleased that Mr. O'Keefe has finally become the NASA Administrator, and not a moment too soon. Mr. O'Keefe's leadership will enable NASA to continue inspiring our hopes and dreams for man's presence in space," said Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics Chairman Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA).

"I am well aware of the systemic problems with the ISS program. I stand ready to assist Sean O'Keefe, the OMB and our international partners to see how we can mitigate these problems and go on to execute world-class science research on ISS," said Cong. Dave Weldon (R-FL), who pressed O'Keefe on plans for the space shuttle and the Space Launch Initiative. "I am excited about Mr. O'Keefe's commitment and enthusiasm for research into new propulsion technologies, namely his commitment to Space Launch Initiative. However, while we must conduct research into new propulsion systems and materials technology in order to reduce the cost to orbit, we must not neglect the Space Shuttle."

Cong. Bart Gordon (D-TN) added, "Based on what I have heard today, there are a large number of NASA programs whose future directions are in limbo. Programs like the International Space Station, the Space Shuttle, the Earth Observing System, and even the outlook for the NASA workforce and facilities are in a state of uncertainty. The new administrator deserves a brief honeymoon to flesh out these issues, but within the next three to four months, we will need timely information on NASA's intentions in each of these areas if we are to make prudent funding decisions."

"I remain convinced that we will need a Crew Return Vehicle in the Space Station program. Administrator O'Keefe told me today that he spoke with astronauts yesterday about providing a "safe haven" aboard the ISS and that the crew views abandonment as a last resort. I have no quarrel with the idea that there are options for contingency planning, but I will remind everyone that the lesson we learned from the Titanic and the Challenger tragedies is that everyone gets a seat in the lifeboat. I will continue to press for a full seven-person crew aboard the Station - and for the capability to bring them all home if the worst happens," said Cong. Nick Lampson (D-TX).

Administrator O'Keefe's written testimony and an archived web cast of the hearing can be found at http://www.house.gov/science

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