Today's hearing will examine NASA's two-track approach for space transportation. The first track is to safely operate and maintain the Space Shuttle, while the second track is to develop and demonstrate technologies for a second-generation reusable launch system. With the undocking of the Space Shuttle Atlantis from the International Space Station yesterday, we look forward to the Shuttle returning safely to Earth tomorrow. While I find comfort knowing that the Space Shuttle's performance since Challenger has been flawless, we must be vigilant and mindful of the enormous effort and expense required to fly the Shuttle. The Shuttle was designed over 30 years ago and many of its systems are based on obsolete technology. To be fair, the Shuttle program budget has decreased by more than fortypercent over the last ten years, while maintaining 100 percent mission success. NASA has attempted several times to develop and demonstrate new technologies to significantly cut the cost and risk of launch, but none have succeeded. Setbacks continue to push plans for a new privately-owned and operated vehicle further into the future. America needs a commitment ftom NASA and our aerospace community to come up with responsible approaches for affordable and reliable access to space. In particular, NASA must do a much better job in developing realistic plans and programs for achieving low cost access to space.
In order for us to move forward in a positive direction, we must be honest with ourselves, learn from mistakes like the X-33, and not make assumptions based on phony premises as we plan for the future. I supported the single stage to orbit concept at its inception, because I thought that it held the promise of getting us to the next step in the evolution of space transportation. After seven years and $1.2 billion, I realized that the technology hurdles for the X-33 were insurmountable. I maintain that the previous Administration sold the Congress on an unobtainable, high-risk bill of goods.
Two years ago, NASA unveiled the Space Launch Initiative (SLD as a new program, based on a "clean sheet of paper" approach, which would develop the technologies to meet the country's future launch needs. I don't think it is arrogant to say that I was the prime mover behind SLI and the idea of developing a variety of technologies rather than focusing on a single concept. I still want SLI to succeed, but there appears to be increasingly little hope that it will produce any significant breakthroughs. Pursuing cutting-edge technology does not mean blindly shoveling money in and hoping for a miracle. We must ensure the Shuttle continues to operate safely in the absence of a viable ' alternative, but we can't fly the Shuttle forever. How long should we fly the Shuttle? What are the right goals for the next generation vehicle? Will SLI actually produce technology that dramatically reduces cost and risk?
The Space Shuttle program and the Space Launch Initiative are inextricably linked and perhaps they are at a crossroad. The programs we will discuss today will likely cost the American taxpayer $50-60 billion over the next ten years. Issues involving levels of investment for Shuttle safety and supportability upgrades, Shuttle privatization, and the credibility of the SLI program will define how this country proceeds in improving its national launch capability.
Today's hearing will provide greater clarity into these issues of importance to the aerospace community and this Subcommittee.