Following yesterday's publication of the 248 -page report by the
Columbia Accident Investigation Board, several members of the House
Science Committee released statements. Committee Chairman Sherwood
Boehlert (R-NY) also conducted a 40-minute briefing to discuss the
Congress returns to Washington next week. Boehlert announced that
next Thursday the Science Committee will hold the first in a series
of hearings to review the findings of the Investigation Board led by
retired Admiral Harold Gehman. Gehman will testify at this hearing.
NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe will testify the following week,
followed by other hearings on the report and the space agency's
response to it.
Chairman Boehlert praised the work of the Investigation Board in his
written and oral comments, citing their rigor and independence.
"They have performed a great service to the nation and particularly
to those of us who must set policy for NASA," he said.
The chairman would not predict how policy makers would ultimately
respond to the Board's recommendations, and to the future nature of
the space program. Saying that both the Congress and the Bush
Administration "must now chart the future for NASA," Boehlert
"We need to do so without any preconceived notions about what the
space program should look like." Cautioning against a rush to
judgment, Boehlert said that both costs and risks must be considered.
Saying that Americans have traditionally been explorers, he said "we
are still enamored with humans in space. Humans are just unique,
they are creative, they have judgment, there is no machine that can
be as creative. . . . but then again, we are going to have to
analyze what is being accomplished in space with humans. And then we
are going to have to look at how much of that could be accomplished
just by machines." After looking at the costs and risk, the
determination must then be made, "is it worth it?"
In statements released by the committee, Research Subcommittee
Chairman Nick Smith (R-MI) addressed the manned space flight
question, saying "I believe it is likely that we will conclude
shift in emphasis toward unmanned flight is reasonable for both
safety and research value." Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee
Chairman Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) stated that "NASA's failure to
develop new space transportation capabilities after spending billions
has resulted in flying the Shuttle longer than necessary."
Boehlert promised that committee members and staff will be going
through the report very carefully, and while rejecting a
micromanagement role, said that the committee would exercise careful
oversight. He said that he is looking to NASA for a plan on how it
will address the recommendations of the Investigation Board, and
complimented NASA for not being overly defensive in trying to deflect
criticism. Regarding Congress, Boehlert explained the important role
that appropriators have in the funding process, and said that
authorizers will be working closely with them. The chairman
acknowledged that while Congress has traditionally supported NASA,
actual funding has not matched this support. Congress will, he said,
have to make some tough funding decisions, as will the Bush