WASHINGTON, D.C.—The U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation announces the following full committee hearing titled, Realizing NASA's Potential: Programmatic Challenges in the 21st Century.
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Chairman John D. (Jay) Rockefeller IVU.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation
WASHINGTON, D.C.—I would like to welcome all of our witnesses here this afternoon to discuss NASA’s progress and challenges in implementing the NASA Authorization Act of 2010. No conversation on implementation, however, would be complete without also discussing the destructive impact that sporadic funding is having on NASA’s mission and priorities.
NASA continues to be an agency in transition. After 30 years and 135 flights, the Space Shuttle program is retiring. Just last week, we watched Discovery’s last mission. There is a great anticipation about what’s next for NASA after the shuttle program comes to a close.
NASA’s shuttle program has led to major scientific successes and discoveries. It’s launched and repaired the Hubble Space Telescope, sent up the world's most powerful X-ray telescope, opening a window to the universe, and completed construction of the International Space Station. The Space Station is of particular interest to me—not necessarily because of what it teaches us about space—but because of the discoveries it’s made that could improve the lives of every American. The shuttle also helped capture the imagination of a new generation of people too young to remember previous missions.
The space station itself recently passed a milestone of its own. Last November marked 10 years of a continuous human presence on the space station. Much of that time has been devoted to construction, but the astronauts on board still found time to conduct more than 1,200 experiments that supported the research of more than 1,600 scientists worldwide.
One very significant discovery is that some bacteria—such as Salmonella and Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA)—become more aggressive in causing disease in the station’s microgravity environment. I think everyone here is familiar with the enormous public health risk posed by antibiotic resistant bacteria. Any progress we can make on this front will pay dividends for years to come. This discovery is helping scientists develop potential vaccines for both of these infections and, if successful, would save thousands of lives each year. For these reasons and for the scientific promise of future exploration, we need to get NASA’s transition right.
Exploration, however, can take many forms and there is one area of the President’s FY 2012 budget request for NASA that particularly concerns me. That’s the funding requested for NASA’s education programs. The FY 2012 request is $138 million, which is nearly $42 million less than what was enacted for FY 2010. Teaching our students science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) has never been more important to innovating and competing in this global economy. In recent visits to schools in my own state of West Virginia, I have seen first-hand the success these programs have in inspiring our next generation of scientists and engineers. NASA’s Space Grant Program, for example, can be found in each and every state across the country. In my own state, the program funds fellowships and scholarships for students pursuing STEM careers at West Virginia University, Marshall University, and other colleges and universities around the state.
NASA’s EPSCoR—or Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research—is another education program working to improve STEM research and development in the aerospace field. In West Virginia alone over the past 5 years, this competitive program has supported hundreds of students and faculty in their research, resulted in millions of dollars in new funding, supported more than 100 scientific papers, and led to new patents. This type of program allows every state to fully participate in the research activities that lead to new discoveries, create new jobs and educate our workforce.
I would again like to thank our witnesses for being here today. I look forward to their testimony.
Senator Kay Bailey HutchisonU.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation
Statement of Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison
“Realizing NASA’s Potential: Programmatic Challenges in the 21st Century”
March 15, 2011
Mr. Chairman, thank you for holding this hearing on the Fiscal Year 2012 Budget Request for NASA. I want to welcome the Associate Administrators from each of the agency’s Mission Directorates. These are the professionals that represent the core of the REAL NASA, the accomplished, professional, “can do” technical experts that have made our space agency the envy of the world. It should be a very informative hearing.
Congressional views about the last two years of Budget Requests, and implementation activities associated with the new law, have been fairly critical. Part of the concern is based on the previous Budget Request’s sudden and unjustified change in direction. But, there is also great concern shared by many of us that the senior leadership of the agency remains uncommitted to the full, faithful, and timely implementation of the law we worked so hard to pass last year.
And it is a law, Mr. Chairman, not just an advisory framework. Compliance is not something we should have to hope for aspirationally; it is something that we expect and which is plainly required.
When we wrote the NASA Reauthorization Act of 2010, this Committee provided a balanced portfolio for NASA, with robust investment in science, research and development activities, and the continuation of human space flight and exploration development.
The law prioritizes the continuation of work on the Orion crew exploration vehicle and redirects the agency’s efforts to develop a heavy lift launch vehicle to carry Orion beyond low-Earth orbit. To meet these requirements, we directed the Administrator to use as much existing technology as possible from the Shuttle and Constellation programs in order to shorten the development timeline, reduce costs, and maximize the use of taxpayer funds that have already been dedicated to our human space flight program.
In carrying out that effort, the Administrator is directed to modify and extend existing contracts for the relevant technology to get started quickly and to prevent the loss of critical skills and infrastructure. Yet, five months after the law’s passage, we are still waiting for signs the agency plans to comply with these directions. To my knowledge, not one major contract has been modified in furtherance of the requirements we put forward.
In fact, Mr. Chairman, a final report was due from NASA two months ago outlining its plans for the capsule and the heavy lift vehicle, including related contract modification determinations. We received what NASA calls a “preliminary report” lacking much of the information required by the law, and now, two months later, we are still awaiting compliance with even this modest reporting requirement.
With these requirements still unresolved, we now must consider the President’s FY 2012 Budget Request. I am disappointed that the Request appears to ignore many of the priorities that the law established for human space flight.
Specifically, the Request reduces the funding for the Orion capsule and the heavy lift vehicle by more than $1.3 billion below what we authorized for FY 2012. At the same time, the Request proposes a significant increase to the very same areas prioritized by the Administration’s last Budget Request, which Congress rejected.
To date, the justifications offered for the significant increases to the commercial crew funding and the corresponding reductions to the capsule and the heavy lift vehicle have been unpersuasive. I plan to pursue this issue with our witnesses.
As a reminder, the NASA Reauthorization Act was designed to promote investment in commercial crew capabilities, while prioritizing the rapid development of a national launch system to resume exploration. This will allow us to develop an important backup capability along the way to a fully developed launch system for exploration. And, it assures access to low Earth orbit from a domestic source should a commercial crew provider fail to develop a reliable and safe capability.
The fact that this Budget Request dramatically reduces funding for the heavy lift launch vehicle and Orion capsule while proposing a 70% increase for commercial crew is another illustration that the Administration is not taking the steps necessary to embrace the priorities we established or to implement the law’s requirements.
I have similar concerns with the Budget Request’s provisions related to space technology. Last year, we rejected the notion that we would invest in technology simply for the sake of doing so. We determined we would not support investment in undisciplined research that was not closely tied to specific missions.
Yet the Budget Request would transfer significant funding from Exploration Technology Development, which is mission specific, critical, and defined, to the general space technology line that has much less discipline.
Taken together, Mr. Chairman, the commercial crew funding and space technology proposals in this Budget Request bear an unmistakable resemblance to last year’s Budget Request. And that brings us right to the heart of the issue.
I supported a balanced portfolio of missions for NASA last year, and as Ranking member of both the authorizing committee and the appropriations subcommittee for this agency, I will continue to do so going forward.
Mr. Chairman, it is now time for the agency’s leadership to do their part. I am not prepared to see another year pass without significant forward movement for the nation’s space program.
Thank you again for holding this hearing. I look forward to the testimony.
Witness Panel 1
Mr. Douglas R. CookeAssociate Administrator, Exploration Systems Mission DirectorateNASA
Mr. William GerstenmaierAssociate Administrator, Space Operations Mission DirectorateNASA
Mr. Leland D. MelvinAssociate Administrator, EducationNASA
Dr. Jaiwon ShinAssociate Administrator, Aeronautics Research Mission DirectorateNASA
Dr. Edward J. WeilerAssociate Administrator, Science Mission DirectorateNASA
Dr. Woodrow Whitlow Jr.Associate Administrator, Mission Support DirectorateNASA