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Statement of Sean O'Keefe before the Subcommittee on VA-HUD Independent Agencies, House Committee on Appropriations 8 April 2003 (Part 1)

Status Report From: NASA HQ
Posted: Thursday, April 10, 2003

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee, I appreciate the opportunity to appear before the Subcommittee today to discuss the President's FY 2004 budget proposal of $15.47 billion for NASA. The President's request demonstrates the Administration's continued confidence in NASA's ability to advance the Nation's science and technology agenda.

We come together to discuss NASA's space research and exploration agenda, and our efforts to advance aviation safety and efficiency in this Centennial of Flight year, still mourning the tragic loss of the courageous crew of the Space Shuttle Columbia. Before I discuss the details of the budget, I would like to provide the Subcommittee an update about the on-going investigation.

Since the tragic loss of Columbia, our work continues to honor the solemn pledge we've made to the families of the astronauts and to the American people that we will determine what caused the loss of Columbia and its crew, correct what problems we find, and safely continue with the important work in space that motivated the Columbia astronauts and inspires millions throughout the world. A grateful Nation has laid to rest with full honors, six American heroes: Rick Husband, William McCool, Mike Anderson, Dave Brown, Kalpana Chawla and Laurel Clark. The people of the state of Israel also paid their final respects to Israel's first astronaut, Ilan Ramon. At all these ceremonies, NASA was represented by myself and/or other appropriate Agency officials. We continue to be sensitive to, and supportive of, the needs of the astronauts' families and will be at their side as long as our support is desired by them.

I am pleased to note that the Senate passed S. 628, the Columbia Orbiter Memorial Act, on March 18. The companion bill in the House of Representatives, H.R. 1297, introduced by Mr. Young, was referred to the House Committee on Science and the Committee on Veterans Affairs, which reported the measure favorably on Mach 26 and April 3, respectively. I am also pleased to note that the measure has been incorporated as Title III in S. 762, the FY 2003 Department of Defense Supplemental Appropriations Act, passed by the Senate on April 3; the supplemental measure is scheduled to be the subject of Conference action with the House this week. The Columbia Orbiter Memorial Act authorizes construction of a memorial at Arlington National Cemetery to honor the crew of STS 107.

Columbia Recovery operations, which began as soon as it became clear that Columbia was lost, have continued on the ground, in places along the Shuttle's reentry path, stretching from San Francisco, California to Lafayette, Louisiana, where we hope to recover more vital debris from the accident. We continue to send everything we find to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida for assembly and analysis as part of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board's comprehensive accident investigation. In addition, we are appreciative of the fact that the FY 2003 Omnibus Appropriations Act included $50 million in funding to help pay for the costs of the recovery operation and accident investigation by the Columbia Accident Investigation Board. We have established a new accounting code in the NASA financial system to capture the agency's costs associated with Columbia recovery and investigation, titled Columbia Recovery and Investigations. We are monitoring very closely the costs associated with this effort and we will ensure that the Congress is kept apprised of this effort. The Federal Emergency Management Agency is shouldering the resources required by other public agencies at the federal, state, and local levels.

The careful search for debris will continue in the weeks and months ahead. This search is still extremely helpful to the investigation. The debris recovery teams are finding on average 1,000 items a day as they cover thousands of acres per day, depending on terrain. NASA is deeply grateful for the support we have received during recovery operations from the more than 4,000 men and women from the Department of Homeland Security, Federal Emergency Management Agency, Environmental Protection Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Department of Defense, Department of Transportation, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Park Service, Texas and Louisiana National Guard, state and local authorities, and private citizen volunteers who have helped us locate, document, and collect debris.

I returned from Lufkin, Texas on March 24, where I met with many of the volunteers in the surrounding area who are involved in the Columbia recovery effort. I saw firsthand their dedication and I can report to the Subcommittee that morale is high and the continued commitment is strong to recover as much of Columbia as we can. The NASA family is grateful for their assistance.

I am saddened to note that one of the helicopters searching for debris from the Space Shuttle Columbia crashed in the Angelina National Forest in east Texas on March 27. The pilot and a Forest Service Ranger were killed in the crash, and three other crewmembers were injured. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families of the helicopter crew members killed in the accident. We deeply empathize with their loss at such a trying time. We also pray for the speedy recovery of the injured crew members

There are approximately 5,700 personnel working in Texas involved in the shuttle material recovery effort. The field operations involve three main components--ground, air, and water search efforts--to search an area of 250 miles long by 10 miles wide. In each of these operations the searchers, NASA engineers, and EPA technicians are working side-by-side.

The ground search depends on fire crews from 42 States, operating out of four base camps, supported by two local logistics centers. So far, they have searched over 250,000 acres, or about 45% of the total ground search area.

The air search depends on 35 helicopters operating out of two air bases, each staffed by forest service pilots and NASA engineers. They have searched over 1.1 million acres, or about 60% of the total air search area.

The search of Lake Nacogdoches and the Toledo Bend Reservoir depends on the collaborative efforts of 66 United States Navy and state Police divers and a team of side-scan and multi-beam sonar analysts. So far, they have identified over 2,000 targets and cleared approximately 1,500 of them.

The meticulous search for evidence is resulting in important clues that will assist the work of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board. As of this date, nearly 48,000 pounds of debris have been recovered, representing approximately 22 percent of Columbia's dry weight. Of the 38,000 specific items recovered from the accident, more than 34,000 have been identified, with 314 of these coming from the left wing of the Orbiter.

Through the assistance of research institutions and helpful citizens, we have received video tapes that document Columbia's final moments as it streaked across the southwestern United States. The videos pick up Columbia as it approached the coast of California and cover most of its flight path toward the skies over East Texas, with the exception of some gaps in video coverage of Columbia's flight path over sparsely populated areas of eastern New Mexico and northwestern Texas. The video imagery is being used along with radar and telemetry data to help engineers determine the potential location of debris that was shed from Columbia. The Independent Columbia Accident Investigation Board under Admiral Gehman has made significant progress in organizing its work to determine the cause of the accident. NASA has kept its pledge to fully cooperate with the work of the Board, and has taken the necessary steps to ensure the Board's complete independence.

Implications of Suspension of Shuttle Flights

The ISS Expedition 6 crew--Commander Ken Bowersox, Science Officer Donald Pettit and Cosmonaut Flight Engineer Nikolai Budarin--continue to perform science while performing routine ISS maintenance on orbit. There are no threats to the ISS or its crew in the near-term, and we are working options to be able to sustain both over the long-term. All remaining U.S. manufactured ISS hardware for the Core Complete configuration has been delivered to KSC and element ground processing is on schedule. Delivery of Node 2, built for NASA by the European Space Agency, is on schedule for April 2003. Ground processing will continue until ready for Shuttle integration. Only one ISS mission, STS-118, in the critical path to U.S. Core Complete was manifested on Columbia. The primary mission objective of STS-118 is the transfer and installation of the S5 Integrated Truss assembly to the S4 Truss. While the manifest for the remaining three Orbiters will need to be adjusted to accommodate this flight, all other previously scheduled ISS assembly missions will be flown in their original order. A revised U.S. Core Complete assembly schedule will be confirmed when the Shuttle is ready to return to flight status.

In the absence of Space Shuttle support, NASA is addressing contingency requirements for the ISS for the near- and long-term. As I said earlier, there is no immediate danger to the Expedition 6 crew. In order to keep the crew safe, however, we must ensure that they have sufficient consumables, that the ISS can support the crew, and that there is a method for crew return available. Working closely with our international partners, we have confirmed that there is sufficient propellant on-board the ISS to maintain nominal operations through the end of this year. With the docking of the Progress re-supply spacecraft on February 4 (ISS Flight 10P), the crew has sufficient supplies to remain on the ISS through June without additional re-supply. As we move beyond June, however, potable water availability becomes the constraining commodity. We are currently working closely with our Russian partner, Rosaviakosmos, to explore how best to address this issue on future near-term ISS re-supply missions. A Soyuz spacecraft (ISS Flight service pilots and NASA engineers. They have searched over 1.1 million acres, or about 60% of 5S) is docked to the ISS and serves as a rescue vehicle for crew return in the event of a contingency. These Soyuz spacecraft have an on-orbit lifetime limitation of approximately 200- 210 days, and must be replaced periodically. The Soyuz 5S vehicle will reach its lifetime limit in late April/early May, and will need to be returned.

We are currently evaluating strategies with our International Partners to keep the ISS crewed and supplied with sufficient consumables, and to replace the Expedition 6 Crew. The ISS Partnership is committed to maintaining crew on-orbit. To address the near-term anticipated shortfall in potable water, one of the strategies that NASA and its partners are considering is bringing up a new crew of two (one U.S. and one Russian) on the next Soyuz spacecraft (ISS Flight 6S), scheduled for launch in late April to replace the Expedition 6 Crew of three. We are also working closely with Rosaviakosmos to evaluate the flexibility and constraints of the Progress flight schedule to support the crew.

In the unlikely event that de-crewing is required, the ISS can be configured and de-crewed using established contingency procedures. The ISS can remain without a crew for an extended period of time while maintaining altitude with Progress and onboard re-boost capability, without crew interaction. NASA will continue to meet its commitments to our ISS International Partners. Once we understand what caused the Columbia accident and can return to flight, we will resume assembly of the ISS.

The ISS, now in its third year of human occupancy, represents an important milestone in history. Due to this capability, humans are now able to permanently occupy the realm outside of Earth and are actively conducting ambitious research spanning such scientific disciplines as human physiology, genetics, materials science, Earth observation, physics, and biotechnology. Columbia was the orbiter which was to have been used for the 4th servicing mission of the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) planned for November 2004. NASA can continue to service the HST, and any Orbiter is capable of supporting HST servicing missions. Furthermore, the HST is performing well, and is a robust observatory in no immediate need of servicing. Should a delay in the planned servicing mission occur that impacts the Telescope's ability to perform its science mission, HST can be placed in safe mode until a servicing mission can be arranged.

Anticipating A Return to Flight

We have begun prudent and preliminary planning efforts to prepare for 'return to flight' in order to be ready to implement the findings of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board. NASA's 'Return to Flight' analysis will look across the entire Space Shuttle Program and evaluate possible improvements for safety and flight operations that we were considering prior to the Columbia accident. I have selected Dr. Michael A. Greenfield, Associate Deputy Administrator for Technical Programs, to lead our Return to Flight team along with William Readdy, Associate Administrator for Space Flight. This team will be composed of a number of key officials and safety professionals from within the space flight community. Their experience in shuttle operations and the investigation to date will provide a sound foundation for this critical activity.

FY 2004 Budget Request

On that sunny Saturday morning, February 1st, as I awaited the landing of the Columbia, I was contemplating my return to Washington, D.C., to prepare for the release of NASA's FY 2004 budget. We had worked aggressively over the past year to develop a new Strategic Plan and fashion a budget to make it a reality. I was excited about announcing these plans with the release of the President's FY 2004 Budget in two days. I had no idea how that tragic morning would change my focus over these ensuing weeks. During the days that followed, I was asked by some whether the Columbia accident would force us to toss aside our budget and long-range plans.

Mr. Chairman, I will tell you as I told them, I think not. A test of any long-term plan is whether it can accept the inevitable setbacks and still achieve its goals. That is my hope for our plan. Mr. Chairman, in light of the recent tragic loss of Columbia, we must recognize that all exploration entails risks. In this, the Centennial Year of Flight, I am reminded of an accident that occurred just across the river at Ft. Myer in 1908 onboard the Wright flyer. The Wright brothers were demonstrating their flying machine to the U.S. Army, and a young lieutenant was riding as an observer. The flyer crashed, and Lt. Thomas Selfridge died of head injuries, thus becoming the first fatality of powered flight. From that accident in 1908 came the use of the crash helmet. So too from Columbia we will learn and make human space flight safer.

Although the budget proposal was prepared prior to the loss of Columbia and its crew, I am convinced that NASA's FY 2004 budget proposal is responsible, credible, and compelling. It is responsible by making sure that our highest priorities are funded; it is credible by ensuring that adequate budget is built into the most technically challenging programs, and that we will fully account for the costs of all our programs; and, it is compelling by allowing NASA to pursue exciting new initiatives that are aligned with our strategic objectives. As I mentioned previously, the President's FY 2004 budget request for NASA is $15.47 billion. While I will not rule out potential adjustments to this proposal that may be appropriate upon completion of the independent Gehman Board investigation, I look forward to discussing the FY 2004 budget request and how it advances our mission goals of understanding and protecting the home planet, exploring the Universe and searching for life, and inspiring the next generation of explorers, and, in so doing, honoring the legacy of the Columbia astronauts.

Establishing Our Blueprint

Today's discussion is about more than changes in the budget - which is usually just a discussion over how one might change a few percent of one's budget from the year to year - but instead it is about a new strategic direction for NASA and how we are planning to shift our resources toward our longer-term goals. In April 2002, I gave a speech at the Syracuse University that espoused a new Vision and Mission for NASA. There are only 13 words in NASA's Vision and 26 words in NASA's Mission, but every word is the product of extensive senior leadership debate within NASA. And what you see in our new Strategic Plan is the product of those discussions, and the product that the entire NASA team is committed to delivering for the American people. Indeed, we did not need to release this Strategic Plan with our budget - after all, the law stipulates September 2003 - but we felt that if we are serious about our Vision and Mission, we must have it during our budget deliberations and release it simultaneous with our budget.

NASA's strategy for the future represents a new paradigm. In the past, we achieved the marvel of the moon landing, an incredible achievement that has shaped much of NASA today, driven by a great external event - the Cold War - that allowed our Nation's treasury to be aggressively spent on such a goal. Today, and in the decades since Apollo, NASA has had no comparable great external imperative. This, however, does not mean that we cannot lift our eyes toward lofty goals and move up the ladder - using the stepping stones we have identified. We believe that we can make great strides in our exploration goals - not on some fixed timescale and fixed location - but throughout our solar system with ever more capable robotic spacecraft and humans to enable scientific discovery. Hence, we will not be driven by timeline, but by science, exploration, and discovery. We will pursue building blocks that provide the transformational technologies and capabilities that will open new pathways. We can do this within our means. And if someday there is an imperative or new discovery that pushes us further, we will be ready and well along the way.

Part 2

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