We are writing to urge you to support our amendment to the CJS bill to add $1 billion to NASA's budget to reimburse NASA for costs of safely returning the space shuttle to flight after the Columbia accident.
Following the tragic loss of the space shuttle Columbia on February 1, 2003, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) worked tirelessly with the Columbia Accident Investigation Board (CAIB) to identify the causes of the accident and to return the Space Shuttle to flight to support the completion of the International Space Station.
When no funds were initially requested, Congress appropriated a total of $1 00 million in 2003 to support the accident investigation and to begin initial steps to recover from the accident. Since then, no additional funds have been requested to meet the costs of returning the shuttle to flight and meeting the recommendations of the accident investigation board. Instead, NASA has been forced to absorb those costs from its annual appropriations.
So far, the response to accommodate the loss of Columbia differs starkly "from the response to the loss of the Space Shuttle Challenger in 1986, when Congress appropriated a total of $2.960 billion for the procurement of a fourth shuttle orbiter and related costs to replace the Challenger. NASA has stepped up to the task of returning the shuttle to flight status, as we have all seen in the missions accomplished to date. The success of those missions may cause some to question why the restoration of funds is urgent enough to be considered an emergency. That is because the ripple effect of NASA having to absorb the nearly $3 billion in costs associated with returning to flight has had a devastating impact on many of NASA's other important and vital programs.
Over the past four years, funding has been sharply reduced in such areas as Space Science, Earth Science (including our ability to monitor and understand changes in Earth' s environment and climate), Life and Microgravity Sciences, and Aeronautics research. At the same time, NASA has been tasked with developing an entire new range of systems for human spaceflight to replace the space shuttle and to prepare to undertake tile Vision for Exploration, to return to the Moon and, eventually, equip the nation to explore Mars and other destinations.
Because the funding levels originally projected for the Vision for Exploration have not been requested in the past three years, the situation within the remaining NASA programs has been even further degraded-and die gap between the planned retirement of the space shuttle and the availability of the replacement systems is increasing. This could lead to a situation where, for as many as five years, this nation would have no US-owned capability to send humans into space, at a time when other nations, such as China and India, are seeking to develop or expand such capabilities. In the face of well-known challenges to US global technological competitiveness, this is simply an untenable situation and requires an urgent response.
It is essential that Congress takes immediate action to begin to address this critical situation. During consideration of the Commerce Justice, Science, and Related Agencies appropriations bill, we plan to offer an amendment which will take the first step in meeting this growing urgent national need. The amendment will create an account within NASA's budget structure to be used for restoring funds that were taken from NASA's science, aeronautics, space station and other accounts in order to successfully return the space shuttle to flight status. The amendment would also appropriate $1 billion for theft account, as partial repayment of the total $2.7 billion that will have been expended through FY 2008. This amendment will increase the NASA top line to a level that is close to-but still below-the amount that this Congress authorized for NASA for FY 2008. This funding will help ensure that the nation's scientific and technological leadership is not lost to other nations.
In the long run, NASA's challenges and mission will require more than this effort. We have joined with all of our colleagues in Committee leadership positions in the Senate and the House in calling for top-level discussions with the White House about the long-term needs for support of our nation's space program. It is our hope that such discussions will lead to those needs being met in the future through the normal budget and appropriations process. The adoption of this urgent amendment will not only respond to the pressing needs brought about by a tragic accident, but will also send a clear signal that Congress is serious about ensuring that America retains its leadership position in space exploration. We need to ensure that the Nation continues to enjoy the benefits gained over the past 50 years from space exploration, in improving life on earth, expanding the knowledge of our planet and the universe, and in inspiring generations of young people to embark on the kinds of academic and vocational careers that enhance our position on the increasingly competitive world stage,
We strongly urge you to support the steps necessary to bring this amendment to the floor and support its passage.
Senator Barbara Mikulski
Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison
Senator Richard Shelby
Senator Bill Nelson
Senator Mary Landrieu
Senator Ken Salazar
Senator Mel Martinez