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Remarks of Chairman Wyden, Senate Subcommittee on Science, Technology and Space Authorization Hearing

Press Release From: Sen. Wyden
Posted: Wednesday, May 8, 2002

"Today the Subcommittee on Science, Technology and Space begins working toward an authorization bill for NASA. I want to begin this discussion by stating clearly that I want a NASA that is the best possible investment - paying dividends as rich as those of the early days of the space program, when names like Apollo and Mercury leapt from the pages of mythology into the stratosphere of cutting-edge science. It is clear that in order to regain the glory of the past and fulfill its mission for the future, NASA first must address several current challenges.

"To start, NASA must first rebuild the Congress's confidence in the agency by getting control of financial management. On March 20, the GAO reported to Congress again that the books at NASA are simply an undocumented shambles. NASA's independent auditors and the General Accounting Office cannot continue to disclaim opinions on NASA's books because not enough backup information exists to confirm or refute the financial information.

I am especially concerned about the International Space Station. When the current design was adopted in 1993, NASA said building the Station would cost $17.4 billion, certainly no more than $2.1 billion per year. Nearly a decade later, NASA has admitted that the cost of completing the Space Station has grown to roughly $30 billion, almost $5 billion more than cost caps imposed by the Congress. Continual cost overruns and failures to estimate costs with any fidelity from year to year have got to stop.

"My colleagues and I will want to look in some detail at the plans for the International Space Station. Cost overruns aside - or perhaps in light of the amount of money that's been spent - Congress certainly wants to work with you to set ambitious criteria for a Space Station to benefit scientific inquiry for future generations.

"These are not problems you created, Mr. Administrator, but they are problems you must solve. It's time to nail down the numbers once and for all. Congress is ready to work with you and give you the tools it will take to get your financial house in order.

"The reason for draining the swamp of NASA's financial morass is more than economic.

NASA's scientific mission depends on it, too. This agency must regain financial credibility with the Congress and with the nation's taxpayers. Unless NASA demonstrates fiscal responsibility, there is not going to be funding for the far-reaching science of tomorrow.

"Congress isn't going to throw good money after bad. But with assurance that the boondoggles of today are behind us, NASA may find the freedom to dream for tomorrow - and the support of the nation to do it.

"I want to recapture the vision of John F. Kennedy's commitment to putting a man on the moon by 1970. Today, it is not enough to endlessly circle the Earth in low orbit. NASA should set the goal of putting a person on Mars and work with Congress to set a date to do it. But the aim must be to reach Mars both safely and cost-effectively, or not at all.

"Mars is nearly 50 million miles away, and the dangerous journey there could take months. A mission to Mars is not an idea for the faint of heart or for the frivolous. Getting there will take daring, it will take courage, and it will take discipline - and the discipline must begin before the first plan is drawn. The discipline must begin today.

"While NASA looks to the future, current scientific projects cannot be allowed to fall by the wayside either. The agency must continue to do what it does well: achieve success in human and unmanned space flight programs.

"As this Subcommittee stressed in its hearing last fall on shuttle safety, the excellence of the Shuttle program must be maintained while research continues on a next generation space vehicle. I want to thank my colleague from Florida, Senator Nelson, for his dedication to that task. The challenge is to keep moving forward with projects already on NASA's plate while repairing the mistakes of the past.

"NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe and I are on the record in agreement that the business of NASA is - or should be - science. In his nomination hearing four months ago, Mr. O'Keefe and I both noted that NASA's research supports the technological advances that drive our nation's economy.

"Administrator O'Keefe, you came to NASA to oversee a period of great transition. Two recent announcements from your agency have offered much hope for the future of NASA and its scientific research and innovation. The new images from the Hubble space telescope show that NASA research still has the potential to illuminate the universe and inspire the world. And your restart of the "Teacher in Space" program indicates that you're ready to inspire the future generations of the scientists, discoverers, entrepreneurs, and astronauts that this nation needs.

"However, much of the other news coming from NASA is less than inspiring, and it is incumbent both upon you and upon this Subcommittee to tackle the many issues facing your agency.

"In the next few months you are due to make several recommendations regarding Space Station research and cost estimates and privatizing the Shuttle. This Subcommittee will look forward to hearing those recommendations.

"I am hopeful that my colleagues and I can work in a bipartisan fashion with you, Mr. O'Keefe, and with the Administration to make some progress toward an authorization bill this year."

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