Senate Appropriations Committee Language on NASA Space Flight

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Publication date: 
12 September 2003

As reported in FYI #117, the Senate Appropriations Committee has passed its FY 2004 spending bill for NASA, S. 1584. Not surprisingly, much of the language on NASA in the accompanying committee report (S. Rpt. 108-143) deals with the report of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board (CAIB), and NASA's plans to return the space shuttle to flight. Selected portions of the report relating to the CAIB's findings, and NASA's Space Flight Capabilities, are highlighted below. The full report is available at

"NASA is at a crossroad in its history. Because of the tragic loss of the Shuttle Columbia, the Committee believes that both the Congress and NASA must make a renewed commitment to safety as the highest priority in the NASA budget.... We know more about the Columbia tragedy now that the Columbia Accident Investigations Board [CAIB] has issued its final report. The findings are disturbing but provide a foundation for NASA to assess and institute the substantial reforms that must be made to make a return to flight both
safe and successful."

"NASA's existing budget profile already maps out an aggressive role for the United States in both manned and unmanned space exploration. However, the potential out-year costs are substantial and will likely be very difficult to sustain. This difficulty will be compounded further by whatever NASA proposes in the way of reforms and investments in response to the final findings of the CAIB. In addition, the Committee believes that there must be a renewed commitment to a replacement of the Shuttle as the primary vehicle for manned space flight. While this commitment may begin with an increased investment and new timetable for the Orbital Space Plane [OSP], the Committee understands that NASA sees the OSP, not as a shuttle replacement, but as a crew return vehicle from the ISS in times of emergency and as a crew and supply transport vehicle otherwise...and the Committee directs NASA to include plans and benchmarks for the replacement of the Space Shuttle as part of its comprehensive plan in response to the CAIB."

SPACE SHUTTLE: "The Committee believes there is no higher priority than improving the safety and reliability of the remaining Shuttle orbiters.... The future of the ISS [International Space Station], and other U.S. manned space flight missions for the rest of the decade are contingent upon having a working Shuttle fleet that is as safe as possible.... The Committee notes that prior to the Columbia accident, both the Shuttle and the supporting infrastructure were expected to need substantial investments in future years in order to maintain the integrity of the Shuttle program. Now that the CAIB has released its final findings, it is expected that NASA will establish an aggressive schedule and provide sufficient resources to upgrade Shuttle hardware and supporting infrastructure in fiscal year 2004 and beyond."

"Due to the uncertainty of how NASA intends to implement the final CAIB recommendations for the return to flight of the Shuttle, the Committee recommends that funding for the Shuttle be $3,968,400,000, the same as the level within the request of the administration. This will allow NASA to have funds readily available to make a return to flight as soon, and as safely as possible.... NASA may seek additional funds by transfer from the ISS funds within this [Space Flight Capabilities] account."

INTERNATIONAL SPACE STATION: "The International Space Station [ISS] was expected to reach a significant milestone in February of 2004 of core complete.... Instead of reaching core complete, the ISS is now being regularly transported by and supplied through Russian built Progress and Soyuz capsules. While these capsules are capable to transport both crew and supplies, the Committee is concerned that reliance on these vehicles, while not optimal, may have to continue for an extended time into the future.... The Committee also is concerned about the present situation aboard the ISS which involves a 2 person crew with approximately 120 hours a week of availability for activities... [leaving] only 9 hours a week available to the crew for continuing to support prioritized science activities.... As soon as the Shuttle is available to provide access to the ISS, the Committee is adamant that NASA provide the Committee with a plan detailing the steps necessary to reach US Core Complete, as well as the outyear costs associated with the revised schedule."

ORBITAL SPACE PLANE: "The Committee understands that the role of the OSP [Orbital Space Plane] is to provide a crew return capability from the ISS by approximately 2010. Once this occurs, it will then evolve into a complement to the Shuttle for taking crew into space, and will enable a transition path to future reusable launch vehicle systems. It is expected that the OSP program will provide the opportunity to support crew transport to and from space by 2012. It is clear to the Committee that some type of vehicle will be necessary to supplement the aging Shuttle fleet, and that such a vehicle should be made available as quickly, and as safely as possible.

"The Committee is skeptical that the OSP is the only approach for NASA to move astronauts to and from the ISS.... NASA should not limit itself to RLV technology alone, but should also explore other future options for servicing the ISS in light of the loss of Columbia..... The Committee does not want to repeat the mistakes of the Space Station, where poor management and lack of independent oversight resulted in major cost overruns, to occur with the Orbital Space Plane. Therefore, the Committee directs the Administrator to create an independent oversight committee.... The Administrator shall use available funds within the Science, Aeronautics and Exploration account to provide sufficient resources for this Commission this fiscal year."