Before members of the House Science Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics
on May 2, NASA head Dan Goldin acknowledged that the quantity of human-tended
science on the space station "will be greatly degraded" due to Administration
actions to control station cost overruns. In the past two weeks, Goldin
appeared before three subcommittees to defend his agency's FY 2002 budget
request and explain the recent news of $4 billion in cost overruns to
the station. He testified that, based on White House guidance, NASA
will accommodate the additional costs by redirecting funds from some
remaining station elements, including propulsion and habitation modules,
some research capacity, and a crew return vehicle. While the Members
generally expressed support for NASA's programs and a desire to provide
higher funding levels, there were many serious questions about how changes
to the space station plan would impact research on the orbiting facility.
Space and aeronautics subcommittee ranking Democrat Bart Gordon (D-TN)
noted that NASA's new plan would limit the space station to just three
crew members for the foreseeable future, requiring more than two astronauts
to operate the station and leaving only one-half of one astronaut's
time to tend the science experiments. The station "won't have the crew
and resources to deliver the world-class research program that was promised,"
Gordon commented. "We'll be just up there maintaining ourselves and
not getting anything done."
Goldin responded that the science and other deferred elements would
be put on hold, not necessarily cancelled. He said NASA would seek advice
from external scientific groups to prioritize the science, and would
look for ways to add back more capacity over the years. He stated that
NASA would provide the full 10 research racks and all other elements
that were planned for the U.S. "core complete" facility between now
and 2004. But he did not know how many of the remaining 27 intended
racks NASA would be able to provide.
In other questioning, Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) asked why, with all
the emphasis Goldin has placed on math and science education and strengthening
universities, NASA was cancelling at least one of its collaborative
programs with academia. Goldin replied that NASA's education budget
had seen a large increase over the years, and it was time to pause,
review the programs, and "prioritize."
Later that week, House VA/HUD appropriators expressed many of the
same sentiments regarding the space station. Chairman James Walsh (R-NY)
called the $4 billion overrun a "staggering increase, if true," and
said, "I'm not sure that scaling back the content...is the answer."
Ranking minority member Alan Mollohan (D-WV) added, "To say we're not
going to build all these capabilities on the space station is absurd.
These are the justifications for the space station."
"What we are doing now doesn't preclude any future actions," Goldin
stated. He explained that NASA was seeking to make up the $4 billion
by delaying or stopping $2 billion in hardware development, taking about
$1 billion from the research program, and trying to find another $1
billion in management efficiencies. The research performed "will be
quality, but we'll do less of it," he admitted.
David Price (D-NC) questioned proposed FY 2002 reductions to the new
Office of Biological and Physical Sciences, remarking that the current
budget could only fund about 13 percent of proposals received. This
office "will be the intellectual home for research done on the space
station," Goldin said. While he agreed that it was "frugally funded"
right now, with many excellent proposals going unfunded, he hoped that
beyond FY 2002, it would be "one of the areas [for which] the American
people see fit to increase funding." He steadfastly defended his agency's
request and refused to entertain questions about what he could do with
additional funding. "For FY 2002, I'm satisfied that we have an adequate
budget," he declared.
In reply to a query from Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ) about the Blue
Ribbon panel considering the transfer of NSF's astronomy responsibilities
to NASA, Goldin said "This is a democracy; we'll see how it goes. What's
important is that the nation steps up" and builds the needed telescopes.
Many of the other questions focused on NASA's role in aviation and air
traffic control. Walsh also noted that funding would be cut for many
of NASA's applications, education, and outreach programs. Goldin said
much of the reduction for applications was due to the Administration
policy of not extending congressional earmarks. "We also have priorities.
We are a co-equal branch of the federal government," Walsh reminded
At a May 9 hearing of the Senate VA/HUD Appropriations Subcommittee,
Chairman Christopher Bond (R-MO) chastised Goldin for "management by
optimism" on the space station. Goldin explained that NASA had underestimated
the costs of logistics, operations, and software integration problems,
as well as schedule delays. Echoing a point made by her House appropriations
counterparts, ranking Democrat Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) said the overruns
would make it harder to convince other Members to continue supporting
the station. "It is Bond and Mikulski that have to explain this to our
colleagues," she noted. She also questioned the more than 12 percent
decrease to Earth Science funding in FY 2002 and a relatively flat five-year
projection. The request reflects the phasing down of the first generation
of EOS spacecraft, Goldin explained, and the ramping up of the second
generation, which would require about the same level of funding. Seven
new spacecraft were planned, he added, and he hoped to include several
more as new starts in the FY 2003 or 2004 budgets.
Asked about shortages of scientists and engineers for the aerospace
and high-technology industries, Goldin said, "I view this as the single
biggest long-range challenge to the vitality" of the U.S. economy and
defense. He described several pilot programs NASA has or is planning,
including new scholarships in return for service at NASA, and peer-reviewed
grants for research institutions in nanotechnology, biotechnology, information
technology, and interdisciplinary research across the three fields,
as well as in power and propulsion.
At all three hearings, Goldin received thanks and praise for his service
to NASA. House space subcommittee chairman Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) probably
spoke for many of his colleagues when he said," We want to work with
you in a cooperative...bipartisan way. We want the space station to
be successful." House appropriator Walsh commented, "While we tend to
focus on what goes wrong,...there's a lot that's right."
Audrey T. Leath
Public Information Division
American Institute of Physics