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Floor Statement by Sen. Bill Nelson regarding "VA-HUD NASA flat-line budget"

Status Report From: Sen. Bill Nelson
Posted: Tuesday, November 18, 2003

Mr. NELSON of Florida. Mr. President, I rise to talk about the VA-HUD NASA flat-line budget. The bill has NASA funded at $15.3 billion. This is the same as the amount enacted in fiscal year 2003. As many of you may recall, I have fought to plus up the shuttle upgrades program for years. I still firmly believe that adequate supportability and safety upgrades budgets, coupled with supporting infrastructure, are needed to keep the shuttle operating safely.

The Columbia Accident Investigation Board chaired by Admiral Gehman concluded that throughout the decade, the Shuttle Program has had to function within an increasingly constrained budget. Both the shuttle budget and workforce have been reduced by over 40 percent during the past decade. The White House, Congress, and NASA leadership exerted constant pressure to reduce or at least freeze operating costs. As a result, there was little margin in the budget to deal with unexpected technical problems or make shuttle improvements.

Most people believe we will continue to fly the shuttle for the life of the station, but we continue to base our budgetary decisions on the long-lost premise that the shuttle will be replaced in the near term.

The fact of the matter is that the shuttle must return to flight to complete the assembly of the International Space Station. Return to flight will take funds, and we don't know if NASA has enough funds to fully cover the cost of return to flight since the fiscal year 2004 supplemental was never sent to Congress and the fiscal year 2005 budget remains embargoed. We do know that NASA plans to reprogram $200 million out of station reserves and $107 million out of the Service Life Extension Program, SLEP, to cover some of the fiscal year 2004 costs. The requisite funds should not be robbed from other NASA accounts as has been practiced in the past. Perhaps it would be better to provide NASA enough money to adequately fund all the NASA initiatives without resorting to starving one account to feed another.

The shuttle needs to be able to fly safely as long as this country needs it. To even consider using upgrade and infrastructure funds for return to flight is unconscionable and certainly not in the long-term best interest of our Nation's space program.

It is important that we build, maintain and fly the safest vehicle possible. We cannot afford to have accountants making technical decisions instead of engineers and program managers if we want to maintain our technology edge.

Reducing the NASA budget for the International Space Station program in fiscal year 2004 could force NASA to transfer skilled, knowledgeable personnel--civil service and contractor--to other programs. A lesson learned from the Columbia accident was that we must retain the technical knowledge within human space flight programs so that potential life-threatening problems can reliably be identified and correctly addressed.

The science and technology payback from the ISS is proportional to the size of the crew working there. There are now two crew members onboard but the program plan calls for an increase up to seven when the shuttle is returned to flight and emergency crew return capability is onboard. That increase also requires that the ISS's life support systems be beefed up to provide greater oxygen generation and carbon dioxide removal among other capabilities. The fiscal year 2004 ISS budget request includes capability upgrades that are the upfront systems that will allow that increase in crew size. This development is programmed to be continued in fiscal year 2005 from program budget reserves. If the ISS budget is reduced in fiscal year 2004 that reduction will come from existing reserves that would have been carried forward to fiscal year 2005 and paid for the continuation of these necessary developments. A cut this year will most likely force NASA to cut back on this development and further delay crew size increase and consequently the scientific return from the ISS.

Because a reduction in the ISS budget for fiscal year 2004 will likely be taken from program reserves that is like tying one arm behind the program's management. ISS is a developing human space flight vehicle, with inherent schedule and technical risks. Managing the unknowns that will occur requires appropriate flexibility in the management's budget, budget reserves. Reducing the program budget and as a consequence reducing those reserves is simply dangerous.

We cannot allow this budget to be flat lined from fiscal year 2003. NASA cannot do everything it hopes to do on the cheap. The fiscal year 2004 Presidential request should be approved and in addition $300 million added to ensure human space flight achieves its objectives without jeopardizing safety and delays to completing the ISS. I urge my colleagues to join me in supporting an increase to the NASA top line.

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