Apr 22 2010


U.S. Senator Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), ranking member of the Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee (CJS), today made the following statement during the Subcommittee’s hearing to examine the Administration’s plans for the future of human space flight.

Statement of Senator Richard C. Shelby
Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee
April 22, 2010

 “The President's new plan, like his old one, shows that NASA’s leadership team still does not understand the issues at stake.  While the Administration may have realized that its initial budget request was a failure, the new plan, from the same team, still ends this country’s human space flight program.  Mr. Administrator, your plan does nothing more than continue the abdication of America's leadership in space.

“The President's own Augustine Commission highlighted what we all believe, that our human spaceflight program must be worthy of a great nation. I have read NASA’s budget and I find it to be anything but great.

“The President’s plan only ensures that for decades to come the United States will be both subservient to, and reliant on, other countries for our access to space.  Future generations will learn how the Chinese, the Russians, and even the Indians took the reins of human space exploration away from the United States.

“This request abandons our nation's only chance to remain the leader in space and instead chooses to set up a welfare program for the commercial space industry.  It is a plan where the taxpayer subsidizes billionaires to build rockets that NASA hopes one day will allow millionaires, and our own astronauts, to travel to space.

“The Administration claims that if we build up this so-called commercial rocket industry the private sector market will magically materialize to produce more expendable launches, at a lower cost, earlier than the schedule of Constellation. 

“What NASA and this Administration have failed to disclose to the U.S. taxpayer is that NASA has no verifiable data to support this claim.  The head of the Office of Science and Technology Policy Dr. Holdren, as well as you, Mr. Administrator, have testified that NASA did not conduct independent market research to show that this private launch market even exists. 

“Let me repeat that. 

“The White House advisor on Science and Technology policy testified that there was no real research or verification done on the viability of the Administration’s approach for the commercial market to sustain America's space future. Instead, this Administration is relying on information provided by the very people who stand to receive billions in taxpayer subsidies to promote their unproven products. 

“The primary source the Administration can cite is a 2002 Futron study that has proven to be overly optimistic. This study was based on a survey of affluent individuals that predicted 33 commercial passengers would have flown between 2002 and 2010.  To date, 8 space tourists have gone beyond sub-orbital space.

“Former Martin Marietta Chief Executive Thomas Young testified before Congress that the Air Force, in the 1990s, tried to “commercialize” their space program.  The Air Force then, as NASA is proposing now, ceded top level management of the national security space program to industry under a contracting approach called Total System Performance Responsibility (TSPR).  TSPR required Air Force project managers to stand back and let industry have total responsibility of the space systems they created for the U.S. Government.  Mr. Young stated that “the results were devastating, and the adverse impact is still with us today.”  This misguided program ended up costing the taxpayers billions to correct.  

“Also in the 1990s, commercial companies made significant investments in Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicles based on a commercial market that never materialized to support their vehicles.  In the end, the government had to keep this domestic commercial launch provider alive with billions of taxpayer dollars.

“We have made these mistakes before, Mr. Administrator.  Albert Einstein said the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.  I believe that is the case here.   

“With this past experience in mind, where are the recent, truly independent, market analysis of the booming commercial sector for delivering people to Low Earth Orbit and back, Mr. Administrator?  We should make those public and let there be a debate about whether taxpayers should shoulder the cost of building space rides for millionaires.

“The truth is, when troubles mount and a commercial rocket market again fails to materialize, the taxpayers will be called on to bailout these companies and their investors, a recurring theme within this Administration.
“Other than the Augustine Commission’s cursory examination of safety, there is no evidence that NASA has done any in-depth analysis related to the safety concerns of putting humans on a commercial rocket.  I will remain steadfast in insisting on safety as the first priority for the space program.  Nothing less is acceptable.

“Contrary to NASA’s position on commercial safety, the Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel, whose sole focus is to ensure lives are not needlessly lost in our space program, stated in their 2009 report that no commercial manufacturer, "is currently human-rating requirements qualified, despite some claims and beliefs to the contrary." 

“This is after their 2008 report, written in part by you, Mr. Administrator, declaring that commercial vehicles, "are not proven to be appropriate to transport NASA personnel."  I will have some questions about how you could, in 2008, state that this industry was incapable of safely transporting astronauts, and yet sit here today to say just the opposite. 

“Madam Chairwoman, I find this abrupt change in opinion to be without evidence and highly suspect.

“NASA’s safety experts agree that current commercial vehicles are untested and unworthy of carrying our most valuable assets - our nation's astronauts.  As a resounding rebuke of the Augustine options, and their biased and overly optimistic view of newcomers to commercial space, the Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel reaffirmed what has been known for some time:

“To abandon Ares I as a baseline vehicle for an alternative without demonstrated capability nor proven superiority (or even equivalence) is unwise and probably not cost-effective. The ability of any current COTS design to "close the gap" or even provide an equivalent degree of safety is speculative. Switching from a demonstrated, well designed, safety optimized system to one based on nothing more than unsubstantiated claims would seem a poor choice. Before any change is made to another architecture, the inherent safety of that approach must be assessed to ensure that it offers a level of safety equal to or greater than the program of record."

“A year ago, I had some very strong criticisms of the COTS program and those criticisms are just as valid today as they were then.

“This request represents nothing more than a commercially-led, faith-based space program.  Today, the commercial providers that NASA has contracted with cannot even carry the trash back from the space station much less carry humans to or from space safely.

“These providers have yet to live up to the promises they have already made to the taxpayer.  Not a single rocket or ounce of cargo has been launched since we met last year.  Instead of requiring accountability from these companies, the President’s budget proposes to reward these failed commercial providers with an additional bailout.

“The President’s retreat from his initial proposal last week was rolled out in the shadow of the rocket that is the basis of the new commercial vision for the future of human space flight.  Yet this “visionary” company’s first foray into rocketry – the Falcon 1 – was 4 years delayed in launching a successful rocket.  After 3 failures and a cost escalation of 50% it finally got its rocket off the ground. 

“The Falcon 9 – the very vehicle the President touted a week ago as the future for NASA – is 2 years behind schedule… and counting.  Yet the President’s budget rewards the commercial space industry with an additional $312 million bailout to deliver on already signed contracts in the hope that they will actually be able to deliver something some day.  This equals a 60 percent cost overrun for an unproven commodity.

“Given the current record of repeated failure to deliver on their agreements, the continued schedule delays, and now the cost overruns, I believe that the President cancelled the wrong rocket program.

“Mr. Administrator, this plan lacks vision, is unrealistic, and jeopardizes our entire human space exploration program.  I am astounded by the enthusiasm with which NASA leadership has maligned the years of hard work by your own engineers.

“Congress has a responsibility to those whom your plan will put in the unemployment line, something your leadership team dismisses as mere collateral damage.  However, we do not see them that way.  To us, they are people who have been devoted to maintaining the leadership and heritage of 50 years of U.S. space flight.  

“The jobs that are promised to be created will hardly materialize before the pink slips begin to arrive.  Once these highly skilled workers leave, they will likely never come back.  Given the way they have been treated so far this year, I would hardly blame them.

 “Now, you are even attempting to undermine the letter and the spirit of the law as it relates to current funding of Constellation.  Your destructive actions toward the Constellation program will only ensure that Members cannot trust you.  You, Mr. Administrator, are creating an atmosphere where you and your leadership team have become a major impediment to moving forward.

“Under the Administration’s plan, NASA as we know it will never be the same.  Today, NASA is immediately associated with success in spite of insurmountable odds.  There is a deeply ingrained respect for what NASA can do because of what NASA has done and is doing today.  If this proposal is the best we can do as a nation, then we do not deserve the rich heritage of human space flight which previous generations sacrificed for to make this country's space program great.

“The proposed NASA budget abandons most of Constellation in favor of an unproven commercial option that will devastate any goal the United States has in exploring beyond low earth orbit.  The President’s announcement of his new plan last week merely replaced one visionless plan with another.  It is clear that the Administration, and more specifically you, Mr. Administrator, do not believe that American leadership in human space flight is a priority worth fighting for.

“No matter how many summits, press releases, or parades you conduct Mr. Administrator, hope is not a strategy. This plan would destroy decades of U.S. space supremacy by pinning our hopes for success on unproven commercial companies.  This budget is not a proposal for space exploration worthy of this great nation.”