Click here for audio of this hearing. The scheduled witnesses are:
Kay Bailey HutchisonSenator
Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, Chair
Subcommittee on Science and Space
Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation
Hearing on International Space Station Research Benefits
April 20, 2005
10:00 AM, S-253 Russell Senate Office Building
Welcome to our distinguished panel members today, representing NASA’s space operations leadership as well as practicing scientists and academicians with an interest in and understanding of the benefits of the International Space Station and human space flight.
The subcommittee has chosen space station benefits as the subject matter of its first hearing this year because of the tremendous scientific potential represented by the International Space Station and its position as one of the leading elements of the President’s new Vision for Space Exploration.
I welcomed and continue to strongly support the President’s new space exploration vision for our nation and the promise it holds to expand our reach into the heavens, beyond low earth orbit, to the Moon, Mars and beyond. I truly believe we stand at the threshold of the most significant and exciting era of human space flight. We have a tremendous opportunity before us as a nation to prepare ourselves for the first steps of the journey of the millennium.
That journey begins, of course, where we are now. We must assure ourselves that we have a strong foundation for the journey ahead, and that we develop a clear path from our current exploration and human spaceflight capabilities to those we will need in the future. Our current human spaceflight capabilities as a nation are represented by the Space Shuttle and the International Space Station. We all look forward to being in a position next month to resume space shuttle flights and to continue the assembly and utilization of the space station. Our next hearing will focus in more detail on the prospects for future space shuttle operations, and our plans for transitioning to the next family of human-rated and heavy-lift launch vehicles.
I am especially concerned that we build our path to the future without short-changing the investment we have made in the exploration tools we already have in hand. I have made my concerns known regarding the possibility of an extended hiatus between the time when the shuttle is currently planned to be retired from service and the availability of a certified replacement crewed launch vehicle. The subcommittee will continue to carefully examine that issue with a view to finding the solution, which makes the most sense and protects our nation’s leadership position in human space flight.
I am equally committed to ensuring that the investment we have made as a nation in the International Space Station is rewarded to the greatest extent possible by the fulfillment of the purposes for which it has been designed, defended within the Congress, and is being assembled on orbit. In my view, this important, impressive facility can not be allowed to be used simply as a tool for Moon and Mars exploration-related research, as important as I believe those uses are. This facility is capable of doing much more for our nation—and for the world--and we must ensure that we make the maximum use of its capabilities across a wide range of scientific, industrial, and engineering disciplines.
Our hearing today focuses on both the current state of planning for ISS utilization and operations, and on the potential for continued vital scientific research aboard this unique international laboratory.
I look forward to hearing from our NASA witnesses about where they stand with regard to assessing ISS research operations within the framework of the Vision for Space Exploration. I hope to learn more about the criteria and process they are using to conduct that assessment, and what issues they are dealing with as that process moves ahead. Our second panel will focus on their experience and understanding of how research has been planned and implemented to date in the life of the space station, and how that vital research capability might be organized, supported and conducted in the years ahead.
Once again, I welcome our panel members, and look forward to your testimony.
Witness Panel 1
Lt. Colonel Michael FinckeAstronaut and Chief Scientist, ISS Expedition 9National Aeronautics and Space Administration
See NASA testimony of Mr. William Readdy.
Dr. Howard RossDeputy Chief ScientistNational Aeronautics and Space Administration
See NASA testimony of Mr. William Readdy.
Mr. William F. ReaddyAssociate Administrator, Space Operations and Mission DirectorateNational Aeronautics and Space Administration
William F. Readdy
Associate Administrator for Space Operations
National Aeronautics and Space Administration
Subcommittee on Science and Space Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation United States Senate April 20, 2005Madam Chairwoman and Members of the Subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today to discuss the benefits of the International Space Station. On January 14, 2004, President George W. Bush announced the Vision for Space Exploration. The President’s directive gave NASA a new and historic focus and clear objectives. The fundamental goal of this directive for the Nation’s space exploration program is “…to advance U.S. scientific, security, and economic interests through a robust space exploration program.” In issuing this directive, the President committed the Nation to a journey of exploring the solar system and beyond, returning humans to the Moon, and sending robots and ultimately humans to Mars and other destinations. He challenged us to establish new and innovative programs to enhance our understanding of the planets, to ask new questions, and to answer questions as old as humankind. Returning the Space Shuttle to flight and completing the International Space Station are the first steps in the Vision for Space Exploration, a stepping stone strategy toward new exploration goals. Using the Station to study human endurance in space and to test new technologies and techniques, NASA will prepare for the longer journeys to the moon, Mars and beyond. Today marks the 1,630th day of continuous human presence on the International Space Station. That is 11 international crews and over four years of research, discovery and experience in orbit. I am here today to tell you that NASA is progressing towards making the Vision a reality. Just a few days ago NASA passed another important milestone for the Space Station. Expedition 11, Commander Sergei Krikalev and Flight Engineer John Phillips, docked to the Station this past Sunday to begin their six month stay on board. European Space Agency astronaut Roberto Vittori traveled with them to the Station, and will return with the Expedition 10 crew, Commander Leroy Chiao and Flight Engineer Salizhan Sharipov. Chiao, Salizhan and Vittori will return home next Sunday, April 24. The Expedition 10 crew spent 191 days on board the Station. In addition, the Space Shuttle is in final preparations to fly again next month. Our return to flight also positions us to return to station assembly. NASA will complete the International Space Station by the end of the decade and meet its obligations to our international partners. NASA will utilize the ISS to perform the necessary research and testing to help fulfill our exploration objectives. The very character of exploration and discovery begins with the ability to observe. We send humans into space because they are our best tools for observation. Crews on the International Space Station have gained firsthand knowledge of space-based life and they are bringing that information back to all of us. While we can to some extent simulate living conditions in space here on the ground, there is no substitute for experience in the actual space environment. Simply put, to learn how to live in space, we must live in space. Every experiment, every spacewalk, every repair and every piece of hardware assembled teaches us something new. A full time human presence aboard the ISS offers us a tremendous opportunity to study human survival in the hostile environment of space and assess how to overcome the technology hurdles to human exploration beyond Earth orbit. Assembly & Transportation The development of ISS elements and systems is virtually complete; only the assembly process remains. The return to Space Shuttle operations means that NASA can once again begin construction work on the International Space Station. The first two Space Shuttle flights will focus on carrying cargo to the Station and testing new techniques for Orbiter repair. Following those two flights, the crew of STS-115 will restart the assembly of the International Space Station by carrying truss elements to orbit. From there, already completed Station elements will be sent into orbit on the Space Shuttle. The assembly sequence will complete the Station as efficiently and economically as possible, and with the minimum number of Shuttle flights necessary. As we make progress on construction of the Station, we will also work towards increasing the number of crew on board to three members as soon as possible and working towards a six-person crew capability. The President’s Commission on Implementation of U.S. Space Exploration Policy recommended that “...NASA recognize and implement a far larger presence of private industry in space operations with the specific goal of allowing private industry to assume the primary role of providing services to NASA, and most immediately in accessing low-Earth orbit.” Consistent with this recommendation, NASA is seeking to acquire commercial services as soon as practical and affordable to fulfill its transportation requirements for cargo to and from the ISS. NASA is developing a Request for Proposal (RFP) to be released in 2005. The RFP will seek to develop an initial operating capability for commercial services for cargo transportation to the ISS as soon as practical and affordable. NASA will also utilize partner capabilities for cargo transportation. The European Automated Transfer Vehicle will make its first visit to the ISS in 2006. The Japanese H2A Transfer Vehicle will also visit the ISS by the end of the decade. Operational Experience The International Space Station is more than just a science laboratory. The Station is critical to understanding human health, system performance and logistical support in the real environment of space. Moreover, operating the Station with a limited re-supply capability has taught us much about how NASA might plan missions to more distant destinations where cargo re-supply options are limited. In any risky venture, experience and practice are vital. A mission to Mars will take at least 6 months in one-way transit; our Space Station crews experience that duration of exposure during each of their stays. Through the process of building and living on the Station, NASA has learned the following, all of which are vital to exploration:
- Assembly of Large Structures – Example: Automated and manual docking with various vehicles, including those built by other countries
- Extensive Extravehicular Activity – Example: Performance of two types of Space Suits
- Behavior of Crews – Examples: A range of crew sizes (two, three, and eventually six), genders, ethnicities, citizenship, and lengths of time in space -- in various stages of ISS assembly/capabilities
- Responses to Situations That Threaten Mission and/or Life– Examples: solar storms; loss of gyroscope; Elektron oxygen generator malfunctions; gradual depressurization episodes; water usage restrictions
- Health Maintenance of Crew – Examples: nutrition; sleep; exercise; human physiological adaptation
- Long-Term System and Subsystem Performance and Maintenance – Example: Environmental Control and Life Support Systems built in various combinations of systems from various nations
- Practice of Operational Medicine – Example: majority of crew take some medication in flight; we and they rely on telemedicine and monitoring with limited onboard supplies and capabilities
- Training for Long-Term Missions – Examples: efficacy of preflight versus onboard training; skills versus task training
- Emergency Awareness and Preparedness – Examples: Depressurization Alarms and Repairs; Fire Alarms and Drills
- Advances in emergency habitat and shelter deployment for a wide range of purposes (e.g. natural disaster, war refugee relief, temporary emergency safe haven for rescue crews)
- Evaluation and design of self-contained, remote, and hazardous environments
- New clinical methods for human reaction and interaction in isolated and confined environments
- Advancement for process controls, tele-operations, and robotic systems development
- Human performance modeling applies to the medical community’s enhanced rehabilitation and therapeutic practices
- Identification, measurement, analysis, mitigation and tracking of programmatic risks
- Amateur Radio on the ISS (ARISS) – an international project that allows students to talk by amateur radio with ISS crewmembers
- Earth Knowledge Acquired by Middle School Students (EarthKAM) – allows students to control a digital camera mounted in a window on the Station; photos are available on the internet for viewing and study by students around the world
- High School Students United with NASA to Create Hardware (HUNCH) – High school students build training hardware that meets a specific need in NASA’s Space Station payload training program
- Assembly of Large Structures – Example: Automated and manual docking with various vehicles, including those built by other countries
Witness Panel 2
Dr. Mary Ellen WeberVice-PresidentUniversity of Texas, Southwest Medical Center
U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation Science and Space Subcommittee April 20, 2005 Testimony by Mary Ellen Weber, Ph.D.For thousands of years people have looked to the heavens trying to imagine what could be out there, what could those points of light possibly be. We are the generations – those fortunate to be alive at this blink of time in the history of the universe – at the dawn of humanity’s quest to become a space-faring civilization. Momentous endeavors such as this cannot be accomplished in day, or a year, or even a decade, and yet it is a time when it seems everyone seeks only instant gratification. Someone recently lamented to me that we really had not come very far, since fifty years ago it took several hours to fly across the country, and it still does today. However, this is ignoring that an enormous infrastructure has been created, that simply flying a few hundred people a few thousand miles is an entirely different undertaking than moving millions about the globe each and every day. Indeed, aviation has progressed from simply a remarkable feat lasting mere seconds to become an inextricable part of billions of lives and an infrastructure without which our economy simply could not function. Likewise, in creating a space-faring civilization, it is not merely the one-time feats of venturing into new territory that matter. Creating the infrastructure and operations that will enable space to be woven into our daily lives is the more difficult – and perhaps more important – feat. It is easy to only applaud the flashy events, the Super Bowl, golf’s major tournaments, or the Olympic gymnastics. But to eliminate the arduous tedious daily practice, the minor competitions, or the daily workouts would eliminate the major events entirely. Similarly, creating new space vehicles that will take us once again beyond earth orbit is certainly an alluring attention-getting element of the centuries-long quest to become a space-faring civilization. Yet we cannot eliminate or diminish the value and benefits of programs such as the Space Shuttle or the International Space Station. These programs provide necessary elements for success in the major events of human planetary exploration. They have been extremely important, both necessary to prepare us and the next generations to whom we will pass the baton. The Shuttle program has focused on the most dangerous, challenging, and risky aspects of any space venture – leaving from and returning to a celestial body. The challenge, danger and risk arises from the irrefutable fact that to go into space, you must go mind-numbingly fast, at least 25 times the speed of sound, and then return. The required speed alone creates a need for amazing power and technologies and for complex operations coordinated around the world. Understanding and developing technologies, which will allow us to control complicated and delicate operations at these incredible speeds and over vast distances, will take decades and perhaps centuries. For two decades, with the Shuttle, we have been mastering launch and reentry, learning lessons – and learning just how much we have yet to learn – over the course of a hundred or so flights. It is only the beginning, a small and critical step in the long journey to becoming a space-faring civilization. Similarly, the International Space Station is allowing us to master yet another important aspect of space travel to other heavenly bodies – long-term, non-stop operations in space. This involves mastering living and working in space, including the challenges of performing in weightlessness and the debilitation that happens to a body that has evolved for millions of years to use the strong force of gravity. It also involves mastering long-term, non-stop operations on the ground that involve multiple agencies and countries. The importance of this cannot be diminished, since undoubtedly, venturing to other planets will involve such enormous collaborations. The Station has moved us forward lightyears in our ability to operate globally, and to understand and withstand long-duration space travel. Aside from the operational lessons that we have learned, the Shuttle and Station have provided us an unparalleled scientific opportunity in research experiments. We have the chance to probe biological systems and physical materials by varying a force that we could not otherwise vary. Will all research experiments aboard the Station make an immediate and dramatic impact? Unlikely. Even ground-based research does not work that way. But I would like to highlight just two types of research done in space that promise great rewards and promise to return the investment many times over. Both tie in to the next big wave in biomedical research, that of understanding the basis for disease both at a cellular and molecular level. The first area of research I would like to highlight is growing human tissues outside the human body, using the NASA bioreactor. Of course for over a hundred years, we have been able to grow cells – we all did it back in Petri dishes in eighth grade biology – but cells are not the same as tissues. In fact, when a cluster of cells gets large enough, they begin to differentiate, to take on different roles in the larger organ. Consider a cancer tumor. It has a blood vessel system and glandular structures that enable it to secrete chemicals, chemicals important for metastasis. In the NASA bioreactor, we have the opportunity to grow many types of tissues, outside the human body, on a large scale, with cells differentiated, and the Station allows us to do it for months on end. This is an unprecedented opportunity to gain answers about the cellular basis for diseases affecting every organ of the human body. Hundreds of researchers across the country are studying many different types of tissue, using a ground-based NASA bioreactor, and those that get to fly their experiments in space have an incredible opportunity to study the largest, most stress-free, and highest-fidelity tissues. The second area of research is protein crystal growth, and these experiments have been flying since almost the beginning of the Shuttle program. The end result is not crystals themselves, but structures of protein molecules. Proteins are enormous gangly molecules with thousands of atoms, and nothing happens in our bodies without proteins being involved. Each protein has an active site, a specific place in a specific structure that allows it to combine in a specific way with other proteins to either make something good or bad happen in our bodies. If we knew the complete structure and that active site, it would be relatively simply to come up with a chemical to fit within that site to prevent something from happening. Protein crystals are the way to determine the structure. Imagine shining light on a glass prism; from the pattern of colors on the wall, we could determine the shape of that prism. For protein crystals, the dimensions are much, much smaller, so instead of light, we use x-rays to reveal their shape. With either glass prisms or protein crystals, any flaws in them will disturb the resulting pattern and prevent the true structure from being revealed. This is why growing protein crystals in space is so beneficial. The protein crystals are extremely delicate, and in the environment of space, they can grow more quiescently and more perfectly to reveal more accurate – and in some cases, the only available – structures. Protein-structure-based drug design is now being done all over the world, and it has been the source of some of the most effective drugs for some of the most challenging diseases. These include HIV drugs that can eliminate the presence of the virus and make possible a relatively symptom-free life for many years. Another example is a recently introduced prescription flu drug that can make any strain of flu possibly a one- or two-day annoyance instead of a serious multi-week, sometimes lethal, illness. Hundreds of billions of dollars are lost each year in this country due to common but untreatable illnesses, and the use of space to discover even one effective drug would return many-fold the $16 billion we spend each year on the entire space program. It is critical to put in perspective the level of this $16 billion investment in space exploration and research. In fact, it is exceedingly small compared to the other agency budgets that must focus on the here and now. For instance, we have spent far more paying farmers not to grow crops than we have each year on our entire Shuttle program. There are good reasons to provide farm subsidies, and yet there are equally compelling reasons to invest even more in space research, an activity that has yielded substantial return on investment over the past four decades. For research in general, either space based or ground based, finding immediate applications is a challenge that requires patience. Yet there is a prevailing demand for instant gratification in our society, with Wall Street and corporations responding almost exclusively to current quarter earnings. Since I received my Ph.D. in 1988, virtually all elite corporate basic research centers America have vanished – including those at Bell Labs, Exxon, Xerox, and Texas Instruments. Instead, research is supported only if it can be tied to business units, with researchers having to justify their existence only by having a positive impact on profit and loss in the current quarter. The most important discoveries in our society would never have been made if subjected to such restrictions. Research, like the quest to become a space-faring civilization, is a long but critical road. Since companies must focus on the here and now, it is the responsibility of our government to look to the future, to invest in research and activities that will pay dividends in the long run. For Congress to continue to make this investment, however, I believe that receiving an economic return from it is absolutely vital. Therefore, while at NASA, I became intensely involved in efforts to attract private sector investment in space research. Commercializing research is always a daunting prospect, but space presents some additional formidable challenges. In some successful ventures – one involving the bioreactor that resulted in the most ever paid to NASA for a single experiment – we learned successful private investment is possible with the right approaches. I have been asked to comment on lessons learned. First, the bridge between the laboratory – space-based or otherwise – and the marketplace must be built starting from the marketplace. This contrasts markedly with prior NASA efforts, in which amazing scientific phenomena observed were the starting point, with finding potential links to processes here on earth second. Second, there must be an extremely compelling market need, since only with intense need will there be sufficient upside to bear the cost, the bureaucratic overhead, and the rare accessibility to space. “Nice-to-have” just is not good enough to warrant the investment. Third, there must be a specific source of revenue. The phrase repeated to me over and over, “hopefully they can learn something up there that might be applied to a process here on the ground,” simply does not work. For instance, exactly what question, if answered from a space experiment, will lead to revenue? What physical lightweight product can be produced? Is there a “gold standard” that can be identified in space that will guide product development on the ground? Fourth, it is NASA’s responsibility to identify that need and revenue source, not the investor’s. While this may seem a simple concept, time and again, NASA has put the onus on investors to create the value proposition and business plan, and market it to NASA. Top-tier credible investors simply do not work this way, leading only investors with motives other than viable business prospects to solicit NASA. Despite all tangible benefits from the space program, I believe the most important comes from deep within the human spirit. There is no better testament to the importance of this than from the tragedy of Columbia, just two years ago. As one might expect, the entire astronaut corps and NASA family was deeply affected. It is a small community, and not only did we lose colleagues and friends, this loss was a deep and pervasive fear realized. What was entirely unexpected however – at least for me – was the effect this tragedy had on the world. The entire world essentially came to a halt. No other news was covered. People wept, people who had never met an astronaut. Friends I had in other countries at the time received condolences, simply because they were Americans. I received condolences from people I did not know. Columbia captivated and moved our entire society. But the reality is that seven lives were lost. Seven lives. It happens all the time. People across our nation and around the world did not weep for the loss of seven lives. I strongly believe people wept for something far deeper in us all, a deep rooted need to progress our civilization, to go beyond our bounds, beyond our own lives and the lives of our children. People wept because a part of this was lost, and because our whole space endeavors would be at risk. I have been exceedingly fortunate to have had a small but exciting role in our quest to create a space-faring civilization. But we are all pioneers, everyone in our country because of the bold commitment that we have made to space. For many years I have felt great pride that it would be our generations upon which future generations would look with envy that we started it all. But we are now at a pivotal point in the quest. We are now retiring the Shuttle, and even with the most promising budget proposal, there is still insufficient funding to get us much beyond test flights with a new vehicle. I greatly fear that rather than being the generations to have started it all, we will be the generations to bring it to a grinding halt. We simply cannot let that happen.
Dr. Jeffrey SuttonDirectorNational Space Biomedical Research Institute (NSBRI)
Ms. Marcia SmithSpecialist in Aerospace and Telecommunications PolicyCongressional Research Service