From: Rep. Dave Weldon
Posted: Thursday, April 18, 2002
I want to thank Chairman Rohrabacher for calling today's hearing. Aside from the problems we are facing with ISS, the Space Shuttle's future and its eventual replacement is the most pressing issue NASA is grappling with. I look forward today to getting some answers about this important question.
To be blunt, NASA has to come clean about what its plans are for manned rated vehicle operations. For the better part of the past decade NASA has been working under the assumption that a Shuttle-class replacement would be on the near term horizon. This caused for the Space Shuttles to have upgrades deferred or cancelled. This glide path toward expected retirement of the Shuttle within the first decade of the 21st century also caused the literally crumbling Shuttle related infrastructure to be given patchwork improvements or trauma center-like repairs.
Unfortunately a new, robust Shuttle replacement is not on the horizon for at least another decade-and-ahalf. With that being the case, NASA needs to present a cogent policy and funding strategy that will lead to common sense upgrades for the Shuttle to enable. operations to continue safely and efficiently until around 2020. The same goes for the Shuttle related infrastructure. With a roadmap like this in place, we in congress can appropriate the sums needed and overall space policy can be managed in a coherent fashion with respect to man-rated vehicleÖ:├╬rations.
Sean O'Keefe's commitment to developing new propulsion systems should be applauded. He is on the right path which will hopefully set the stage for much more aggressive space exploration. SLI is part of that effort. This does not mean, however, I am without reservations regarding SLI.
I am becoming skeptical of the need to develop a 2' generation RLV. Namely the cost benefit we would gain from such a vehicle. Let's be honest, a 2nd gen RLV would cost tens of billions of dollars. In the current budget predicament, NASA does not have the luxury of spending that kind of money for a vehicle that in the end would only offer marginal improvements over the Shuttle. Whereas taking a proven vehicle such as the Shuttles and making, in comparison to the cost of 2' gen RLV, modest upgrades, we can see efficiencies realized much sooner.
Much has been made by DoD about wanting to do "leap ahead" technologies and systems. Today, I will publicly call on NASA to look seriously into canceling 2' generation RLV work and focus on 3 d generation, "leap ahead" RLV R&D all while making sensible upgrades and infrastructure improvements to the Shuttle. I think we can all look toward the 2020 timeframe of being able to bring 3 rd generation RLV to the forefront and the phasing out of the venerable Shuttle fleet.
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