Hutchison Calls on President to Maintain U.S. Human Spaceflight Capabilities

April 13, 2010

Hutchison PortraitWASHINGTON, D.C. – Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas), Ranking Member on the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, today on the floor of the United States Senate, called on President Obama to maintain America’s human spaceflight capabilities.  You can view her statement here.

“On Thursday, President Obama will travel to Florida where many expect him to discuss the adverse reaction to his proposed budget for NASA and possible alternative options for the future of America’s manned space exploration capability.

“I know that members of the NASA family and everyone living in communities that directly support the space program from Maryland to Utah to Florida and Alabama to Louisiana and Texas are at the very least uncertain about the President's budget proposal, and how it could affect America's historic leadership role in space exploration. I share those concerns. But every American should share those concerns because it will determine our role in science, space, research and exploration and our future both economically and in national security.

“I hope the President has heard the concerns raised since the budget was proposed, and that he will take the opportunity to meet with some of the individuals that have worked hard to keep America at the forefront of space exploration for the last four decades.

“I also hope that when the President returns to Washington, he will recognize that he has an opportunity to reach out on a truly bipartisan basis and develop a new plan for NASA's future that prioritizes scientific research, protects our $100 billion investment in the International Space Station, and ensures that America retains independent human space flight capability.

“Last month, I introduced legislation that provides such a framework, and identical companion legislation has been introduced in the House by Representatives Suzanne Kosmas (D-FL), Bill Posey (R-FL), and others.  This can be a starting point for bridging the differences between the President’s proposal and the views of many in Congress.

“But we may miss this opportunity to work together to build upon America’s legacy of space leadership, unless the Administration alters its current approach.

“The budget proposal put forward by the Administration has created an unnecessary choice between the President’s plans for increased research and development and the necessary transition to the next generation of technology on the one hand, and maintaining a viable space station and an American human space flight capability over the next few years on the other.  We can do both.

“Let me be clear why I believe the President should make his visit to Florida the beginning of a renewed discussion on the country's civil space program.  I believe that the President's advisers, in reaching for a bold new direction for NASA, failed to take into account some very important realities of our space program.

“The decision made in 2004 to discontinue the shuttle program at the end of 2010 was based on an International Space Station service end date of 2015. Two years ago, this Congress, in an overwhelmingly bipartisan vote, enacted the NASA Authorization bill of 2008, which stated that the space station should be kept in service until at least the year 2020.

“In the bill, we also required NASA to ensure that the capability to continue shuttle flights in support of the space station should be preserved for a period of time to give the new Administration a chance to consider its plan for NASA.

“The Obama Administration ordered a full review of U.S. human space flight plans as part of its 2010 budget request, and eventually deferred a final proposal until the 2011 budget request.   One of the important points made by the review committee, chaired by Norman Augustine, was that the space station should be extended until at least the year 2020.

“The President's proposal accepts that recommendation, which is consistent with our 2008 bill, and which I believe is vital to making full use of the scientific research capacity that is only just now being made available with the completion of space station assembly.

“However, I remind my colleagues that the space station was designed and built with the idea that the shuttle would be available to keep it supplied and maintained, and to be able to bring large replacement or spare parts up, should they be needed in order to keep the space station functioning.

“The parts and equipment being flown on the last three remaining shuttle flights were selected from over 1,400 total items, based on what would be needed to support the station to 2015.

“While I commend the decision to extend the life of the station until 2020, flying the remaining shuttles scheduled for this year before completing an analysis of the station’s needs based on a new 2020 service date would be a mistake.

“We need to determine the parts and equipment needed to extend the station’s life and ensure we have the capability to deliver them to the station.  If we were to end the shuttle program as scheduled this year, we would be dependent on the Russian Soyuz vehicle and other possible cargo vehicles, which lack the capability that the shuttle provides. Using the Soyuz vehicles would cost $55.8 million per person and up to $335 million per year. This is $335 million we could be using to extend America’s spaceflight capabilities or its crew vehicles. We could be putting that money to our use instead of paying the Russians to use their Soyuz vehicle.

“The President’s proposal fails to recognize this, thereby endangering our ability to sustain the station until 2020.  My legislation would address this deficiency by keeping the shuttles as an option, at a reduced rate of two flights per year, but only until it can be determined that the station has parts and equipment on hand to keep functioning until 2020 in the absence of the shuttle’s capability.

“The President’s proposal also relies on a still emerging commercial space industry to develop the launch and crew carrying capability to replace the shuttle.  I support the development of a commercial capability, but only as a supplement to a NASA capability, and with the development and proving out of a cargo capability.

“We should take this first step in commercial development before committing our entire national human space flight effort to launch systems that would be another generation beyond the cargo capabilities currently being developed.

“I remind my colleagues that much of the ‘business case’ for a commercial system is based on the assumption of a viable space station.   If the risk to station survivability presented by the President’s proposal is not addressed, the case for investment in the commercial sector may weaken and the development of these capabilities may not materialize.

“If this happens, America would have no long term space flight capability and would need to rely completely on other nations for access to space.  And if an accident or technical issue results in the Russian Soyuz being unavailable for any extended period of time, the space station would very likely have to be abandoned and deorbited within a matter of months. Taking that level of risk is entirely unacceptable for a nation with our proud history of space leadership.

“A nation with our heritage of stretching beyond the possible and reaching for the heavens deserves more.  We need an approach that ensures the sustainability of the station, facilitates the transition to a replacement for the shuttle, and reduces the gap in our nation’s ability to reach space.

“My legislation would address these issues by allowing for the extension of the shuttle if needed for station sustainability and authorizing the accelerated development of a NASA-owned replacement to the shuttle, such as a shuttle-derived design using existing systems and capabilities and the current contractor workforce, and which might be available in time to shorten our reliance on other nations for access to space after the shuttle is retired.   All of this can be done while allowing for the change in NASA’s long-term mission and the increase in scientific research and technology funding envisioned in the President’s proposal.

“Simply moving the remaining shuttle flights scheduled for this year into 2011 and 2012.  Adding the backup flight already prepared as a contingency would provide enough flexibility to complete the analysis of station needs and guarantee a cargo capability for two additional years.  It is possible to accomplish even this modest but critical goal while holding the line on spending at the level in the President’s budget.  That is key.  We can do this in the President’s own budget. And yet extend our capabilities and our control over the shuttles that provide the space station with what it needs so it can go on until 2020.

“The principles necessary to bridge the gap between the President and members of Congress have been set forward by my legislation introduced and legislation introduced in the House.  All that is needed to align these principles with the President’s goals and existing budget realities is a willingness to make the effort and take the same risks that have been hallmarks of our nation’s commitment to space exploration.  The bipartisan foundation is there to make this a cooperative effort.

“I stand ready to work with the President to bridge the differences between his budget proposal and the views of many in the nation, and many in the Congress that the proposal places too much faith in unproven private sector alternatives to a NASA managed replacement for the Space Shuttle, and does not address the critical need to ensure the full and complete utilization--and return on the investment--in the International Space Station.

“For the sake of our nation’s space program and future generations of aspiring space pioneers, I hope that when the President returns from his visit to Florida, he will accept my invitation to work together on a comprehensive human space flight proposal worthy of a great nation.”

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