Opening Statement By Mark Udall: Hearing on NASA's Space Shuttle and International Space Station Programs: Status and Issues


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Good morning. I want to welcome all of our witnesses to today's hearing.

This morning we will be examining NASA's Space Shuttle and International Space Station programs. I think that it's appropriate for us to consider the programs at the same hearing, since the Shuttle and Station activities are tightly coupled and issues affecting one program can have a direct impact on the other.

As you know, NASA successfully completed a Shuttle mission to the ISS last month, and another Shuttle mission to the ISS is scheduled for early next month. By all accounts, last month's STS-117 flight was a very challenging ISS mission during one of the hardest parts of the Station's assembly phase. It is a testament to the skill of the entire NASA team that they have made assembling the ISS in orbit look relatively easy, when the reality is that it is anything but easy!

So I want to congratulate you, Mr. Gerstenmaier, on a last month's success and wish you well on next month's mission.

NASA also is preparing for next year's Shuttle mission to service the Hubble Space Telescope. Many of us were very concerned when that servicing mission was cancelled by the previous NASA Administrator, and I am pleased that it is back on the Shuttle manifest.

I look forward to hearing about its status at today's hearing.

However, assembling the ISS and servicing Hubble are only two of the challenges that NASA will need to address over the next several years in its human space flight programs.

The Space Shuttle is scheduled to be retired upon the completion of the ISS at the end of this decade. There are a great many issues that will need to be addressed during this transition period, and dealing with workforce concerns is clearly an important one.

This subcommittee held an initial hearing on NASA's workforce in May, and I anticipate that we will examine NASA's plans for the Shuttle workforce, including its legislative proposals, in greater detail at another hearing later this year.

Another area of great concern is how the ISS will be supported logistically once the Shuttle is retired.

It's not yet clear that NASA's budget for logistical support of the Station is sufficient for the task, or that all of the planned capabilities will be available when needed. I hope that today's hearing will shed some light on the situation.

Yet all of the work being done to assemble the ISS and support it logistically is not meant to be an end in itself. Rather, it's the degree to which it is utilized productively that will determine the ultimate success or failure of the ISS.

That is why a number of us have been so concerned about the severe cutbacks in NASA's Space Station research program and budget over the past several years.

Those cuts have largely decimated the research community that had planned to use the ISS, with potentially serious implications for the productivity of the ISS as a research facility once it is assembled.

In addition, NASA has yet to develop a well-defined research plan for the ISS that contains clear milestones, prioritized research objectives and experiments, and resource requirements.

We all understand that funding is tight, and that funding for ISS research has to compete with other NASA priorities. However, the nation has invested substantial funds over many years to develop and build the International Space Station. And the NASA team represented by Mr. Gerstenmaier has worked hard to make the ISS a reality. It seems to me that we need to ensure that the nation gets an adequate return on that investment.

Well, we have a great many issues to cover at today's hearing. I again want to welcome our witnesses, and I look forward to your testimony.

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