"This kind of hit us all like a ton of bricks . . . how could you
not know?" one Science Committee member asked NASA Administrator
Daniel Goldin at a hearing last month on the International Space Station.
Goldin had come before Science Committee members to warn them of a projected
$4 billion increase over the 2002-2006 time period, a figure which he
admitted may yet be higher. The alternative is a downsized station with
The space station is in a box. A law caps Space Station development
cost at $25.0 billion, with a $17.7 billion cap on shuttle launch costs
required for assembly. Goldin is not about to break the law. "Instead,"
he told the committee, "funding previously targeted for specific program
content beyond the U.S. 'core' is redirected to offset the growth."
Among those offsets are redirected funding for the Crew Return Vehicle,
the Habitation Module, and the U.S. Propulsion Module.
The result of all of this will be a three-member permanent crew instead
of the planned seven- member crew. Since at least two people are needed
to operate the station, the amount of crew time left for research projects
will be greatly curtailed. Golden's written testimony describes this
"research restructuring" as follows:
"The results of this restructure will require adjustment to our
current research planning. In consultation with the research community,
the program is prioritizing and time-phasing research plans for internal
lab-based biomedical, biotechnology and fundamental research, as well
as external truss and exposed platform Fundamental Physics, Earth
and Space Sciences research.
The program will build multipurpose research facilities to enable
human research, fluids and combustion, materials science, fundamental
physics, and fundamental biological programs. In order to ensure the
research capability needed to achieve our priority science objectives,
NASA's strategy is to grow to the needed complement of U.S. research
racks required to support our biological and physical sciences program."
"I must say that what I have seen from NASA so far leaves me somewhat
skeptical," House Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY)
said at the outset of the hearing. "NASA also must convince us that
the redesign necessary to bring down the Space Station's costs will
not eliminate the ability to conduct useful science or make us overly
dependent on foreign partners." Ranking Democratic Member Ralph Hall
(D-TX) said "I'm also afraid that we could wind up with a Space Station
that is just not worth the money that the taxpayers will have spent
on it." "Even worse" than not completing the station as planned would
be cutting the research program, Hall added.
There was considerable discussion at the hearing about the $4+ billion
escalation, signs of which were first discovered last September. "Frankly
. . . our ability to forecast the complexity of Station software engineering
and technical support has missed the mark," Goldin told the committee.
While there will be considerable discussion regarding the station in
Congress this year, the debate will not be about whether to continue
building the station. Rather, it will be about what kind of station
the Congress wants to fund, and while it is premature to predict with
certainty the outcome, the odds are that Congress and the Administration
will decide to increase the size of the box that the space station is
Richard M. Jones
Public Information Division
American Institute of Physics