Bill NelsonSenatorGood afternoon and welcome to this hearing on NASA’s 2008 Budget Request. We welcome as our witness today NASA’s Administrator, Dr. Michael Griffin, and extend a special welcome to the crew of STS-116 who are here visiting this afternoon. In December, Commander Mark Polansky and Mission Specialists Robert Curbeam, Joan Higginbotham, Nicholas Patrick, and Christer Fuglesang successfully completed the latest construction mission to the International Space Station. This crew conducted four spacewalks and installed the station’s permanent power system. Congratulations on your success and thank you for being here today.Since the last time we gathered to hear from Dr. Griffin in this forum, NASA has safely flown three shuttle missions, bringing the International Space Station to 60% complete and restoring America’s confidence in the Space Shuttle Program. NASA has successfully launched five science missions that will lead to better understanding of our home planet, our solar system, and the universe beyond. A NASA scientist, Dr. John Mather, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics this year, and the transition is underway to replace the Shuttle with the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle and Ares Crew Launch Vehicle.With the successes of the past year in mind, we are also aware of the challenges NASA faces in the future. First, it must safely complete the International Space Station and the remaining shuttle flights. NASA must develop a new vehicle to take humans to the space station, the moon, and beyond – and do so with the shortest possible gap between the shuttle and Orion/Ares programs. And, NASA must continue implementation of a balanced program of exploration, science, and aeronautics. This is an ambitious agenda that was accepted by this committee and the Congress, in a bi-partisan way, when we passed the NASA Authorization Act of 2005.However, in each year since, the White House has requested less funding for NASA than authorized by that act. For that reason, and due to the continuing resolution for this fiscal year, NASA will receive $1.7 billion less than authorized in 2007. If the President’s 2008 budget is adopted, NASA will have received three billion dollars less than the amount planned under the two-year authorization act. These shortfalls are in addition to the $2 billion that this little agency had to take from other programs to recover from the tragedy of the Columbia accident and return the shuttle to flight. If we continue on the President’s path, we face an extended period when the United States will have no human access to space. I say this is unacceptable – especially at a time when other nations are aggressively developing space technology. Last month’s reckless anti-satellite test by the Chinese reminds us that we cannot afford to remain Earth-bound while others pursue space capabilities with questionable intent.And so Dr. Griffin, we’ve invited you to tell us today about the challenges you face implementing NASA’s program in this budget environment. We will also be looking into steps we in the Congress can take to help you meet some of those challenges, and I look forward to working with you to see if, together, we can find some helpful answers. Thank you for your presence here today, and I look forward to hearing your testimony.
Daniel K. InouyeSenatorThe National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s missions are vital and important to our understanding of the Universe and to improving our existence on Earth.NASA’s dilemma is deciding which exciting projects to tackle first. The agency must maintain its strong legacy in science, aeronautics, education, and human space flight while preparing for the future through recapitalizing the human space flight program with new vehicles, and longer flights.Whether we are talking about the International Space Station or the Moon, the biggest challenge is getting there and returning home safely. I look forward to hearing more about the planning and development activities that NASA is undertaking to ensure a smooth transition from the Space Shuttle to the Orion and Ares, along with associated cargo systems.We also must keep the commitments we have made to our international partners, particularly Japan and Europe. The international community is relying on the United States to honor its commitments to the Space Station program. Those commitments are not only for assembly but also for utilization. We cannot achieve our plans for exploration of the Solar System if we go it alone, and our performance today will impact our ability to recruit partners for the future.Ultimately, the nation and this Congress choose to invest in a space program not because we dream of far off planets but because we want to leave earth a better place to live. Beyond the spin-off technology that the space program has developed, NASA satellites help us understand the Earth’s changing climate and its impact on humans. While the agency restored some funding to Earth science in the President’s FY 2008 budget request, I am dismayed that the request significantly cuts NASA’s investment in the interagency Climate Change Science Program.I look forward to examining these issues today along with the Subcommittee’s new Chair, Senator Bill Nelson, who knows first hand of NASA’s importance to U.S. technological leadership and competitiveness.
Ted StevensSenatorThank you, Mr. Chairman, for holding this important hearing on NASA’s FY 2008 Budget Request. NASA has an important role to play in helping this nation expand its technological edge and conducting exciting exploration into the heavens—and in better understanding our own Earth.I am also delighted to see some of the crew members of the most recent Space Shuttle mission—STS-116—join the Administrator briefly at this hearing, led b y their Commander, Mark Polansky.Their mission was extremely successful and marked an important turning point in assembling the International Space Station by getting its permanent power system ready to receive the research laboratories of our international partners, and come closer to being the great scientific laboratory we have always intended it to be.Of course, I am always pleased when an Alaskan native is able to play a key role in a mission, as did Astronaut and Navy Commander Bill Oefelein, the Pilot for this mission, who is from Anchorage. I am sorry that he had a scheduling conflict and could not be here with you today, but I want to congratulate all of you on your fine service and dedication to space exploration.The NASA Budget request reflects the continued support of the Administration for NASA. In a very constrained budget, the President has recommended a little over 3% increase over what was requested for FY 2007.As it happened, the amount appropriated in the year-long Continuing Resolution did not get approved, and so there will have to be some adjustments to the request, which I understand Dr. Griffin will be providing to the Congress in the near future.I believe we need a strong commitment to NASA and its programs, and I hope we can find the best means of providing the resources to allow the agency to carry out all its objectives.One area I am especially interested in is the research NASA is doing to help us understand the question of the causes and effects of global climate change.This is an area of particular interest to Alaska, where we feel the impacts of many environmental changes sooner than much of the rest of the world.There are complex relationships between such forces as ocean surface changes and temperature variations and air currents bringing warmer precipitation to places like Alaska, where the permafrost is affected, and causing increased release of methane gases, which in turn affects the ozone layer.We need to understand these forces, and I will be interested to hear how NASA’s Earth Science programs can help increase that understanding.I look forward to your testimony, Dr. Griffin, and working with the Chairman and Ranking Members of this Subcommittee and the Chairman of the full Committee in charting a solid future for NASA.
Dr. Michael D. GriffinAdministratorNational Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)