May 12 2005

SHELBY CHAIRS HEARING ON NASA BUDGET

WASHINGTON, DC - U.S. Senator Richard C. Shelby (R-AL), Chairman of the Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations Subcommittee, today heard testimony from National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Administrator Michael Griffin. The hearing included an overview of the FY 2006 budget for NASA. Senator Shelby’s opening statement, as prepared, is included here:

“This hearing of the Senate Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Subcommittee will come to order. I want to welcome the new NASA Administrator, Dr. Michael Griffin, who is joining us to discuss the President's fiscal year 2006 budget request for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.”

“Dr. Griffin, in assuming your new post as the NASA Administrator, I can only imagine how busy the past few weeks have been. Now that you have had some time to reacquaint yourself with NASA's activities, I look forward to discussing your thoughts about how NASA is doing, and hearing your insights as to what they could be doing better. I also anticipate that we will have an ongoing and open dialogue about NASA's progress with return to flight and achieving the President's vision for space exploration. I am very interested in discussing how we can preserve the expertise within the activities and institutions that will be necessary to take this ambitious journey.”

“More than a year ago the President presented a vision for space exploration that calls for a return to the Moon and eventually a manned mission to another planet. I am excited by the opportunities that lay ahead with the exploration vision at NASA.”

“However, there are fiscal realities that, like it or not, may affect the vision. That is what we deal with on our Committee, and I believe it is one of the difficulties you will face as the NASA administrator – having to balance NASA's limited resources with its programs and requirements.”

“I believe that we all appreciate the inherent risks involved with many of the activities NASA undertakes. We also appreciate that with risk comes the potential for failure. Inevitably, failures increase the overall costs of the activity, and one of the problems that I anticipate along the path to the Moon is the potential for failures that could pose a significant challenge to the forward momentum of the program and the vision.”

“We have already experienced such a challenge with NASA's return to flight requirements. Specifically, we have seen a strain on science missions and aeronautics as NASA has redirected funds to pay for return to flight cost overruns.”

“These funding shifts have caused programs and facilities projects to be deferred; created uncertainty regarding the fate of the Hubble telescope; and resulted in aeronautics spending being flat.”

“Dr. Griffin, I believe you have the knowledge, the background and the ability to guide NASA. But I also believe that you must begin your journey on a firm foundation. Getting back to the Moon will take more than just plans for a rocket, it will also take a sound financial structure and capable management in order to balance all of the important activities that NASA undertakes to make this exploration vision a reality.”

“I believe there are several looming issues that must be addressed if NASA is to maintain the forward momentum of its exploration goals. The first, as I alluded to before, is the shuttle fleet and how that impacts any future Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV). NASA has been working diligently to complete the necessary changes to the shuttle that will provide additional safety for our astronauts and the vehicle itself, however; the shuttle is targeted to be decommissioned by 2010. The next U.S. manned space vehicle, the Crew Exploration Vehicle, is not currently scheduled for a manned flight until 2014. I am concerned by such a gap in U.S. manned space flight and, more importantly, I am concerned that the time schedule for the current 25 or more shuttle flights prior to the 2010 retirement is too optimistic.”

“Any deviation in these schedules, particularly as they relate to funding, could cause this gap to widen even further than is currently anticipated.”

“Dr. Griffin, I understand that you have your own ideas as to how the gap between the shuttle retirement and the CEV could be closed. I am interested in hearing how you believe this is possible given the tight funding environment.”

“The second challenge, the completion of the International Space Station, is directly linked to the first. The construction of the station is dependent on the shuttle for critical supplies and parts that cannot be delivered by any other vehicle.”

“Our international partners have done an admirable job filling in while the shuttle is undergoing repair, but there is an expectation that the shuttle will return as it is essential to complete the Space Station.”

“The United States has a commitment to our international partners to complete the Station. I believe that we must maintain that commitment, and I am interested in learning of your thoughts, Dr. Griffin, about NASA's plans for completing the International Space Station and further, how that will impact our ability to work cooperatively with other countries in the future on the vision.”

“Finally, Dr. Griffin, I believe NASA faces a significant challenge in building the technical workforce necessary to carry us into the future. NASA is one of the most publicly-recognized agencies within the federal government. We all know about something happening at NASA, whether it is stunning pictures of the universe from the Hubble Space Telescope, photos from Mars, or even the Astronauts living on the Space Station. Such high visibility and name recognition can be a powerful tool in inspiring and recruiting future scientists and engineers.”

“The success of NASA programs in science and exploration students see today, is the inspiration necessary to attract the young people of this Nation to these careers.”

“Dr. Griffin, do not forget that the missions of tomorrow will not be possible if there are no scientists and engineers being developed today. This is a serious issue that must be addressed in order to ensure that future exploration in space can occur.”

“In closing, I want to thank you again for being here today. It is my hope that this will be the beginning of a productive relationship between NASA and this newly constituted subcommittee.”

“I believe there are many challenges ahead and I look forward to working with you to meet those head-on.”

“I will now turn to my colleague, our Ranking Member Senator Mikulski, for her comments.”

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