“This kind of hit us all like a ton of bricks . . . how could
you not know?” one Science Committee member asked NASA
Administrator Daniel Goldin at a hearing last month on the
International Space Station. Goldin had come before Science
Committee members to warn them of a projected $4 billion
increase over the 2002-2006 time period, a figure which he
admitted may yet be higher. The alternative is a downsized
station with downsized research.

The space station is in a box. A law caps Space Station
development cost at $25.0 billion, with a $17.7 billion cap on
shuttle launch costs required for assembly. Goldin is not
about to break the law. “Instead,” he told the committee,
“funding previously targeted for specific program content
beyond the U.S. ‘core’ is redirected to offset the growth.”
Among those offsets are redirected funding for the Crew Return
Vehicle, the Habitation Module, and the U.S. Propulsion

The result of all of this will be a three-member permanent
crew instead of the planned seven- member crew. Since at
least two people are needed to operate the station, the amount
of crew time left for research projects will be greatly
curtailed. Golden’s written testimony describes this
“research restructuring” as follows: “The results of this
restructure will require adjustment to our current research
planning. In consultation with the research community, the
program is prioritizing and time-phasing research plans for
internal lab-based biomedical, biotechnology and fundamental
research, as well as external truss and exposed platform
Fundamental Physics, Earth and Space Sciences research. The
program will build multipurpose research facilities to enable
human research, fluids and combustion, materials science,
fundamental physics, and fundamental biological programs. In
order to ensure the research capability needed to achieve our
priority science objectives, NASA’s strategy is to grow to the
needed complement of U.S. research racks required to support
our biological and physical sciences program.”

“I must say that what I have seen from NASA so far leaves me
somewhat skeptical,” House Science Committee Chairman Sherwood
Boehlert (R-NY) said at the outset of the hearing. “NASA also
must convince us that the redesign necessary to bring down the
Space Station’s costs will not eliminate the ability to
conduct useful science or make us overly dependent on foreign
partners.” Ranking Democratic Member Ralph Hall (D-TX) said
“I’m also afraid that we could wind up with a Space Station
that is just not worth the money that the taxpayers will have
spent on it.” “Even worse” than not completing the station as
planned would be cutting the research program, Hall added.

There was considerable discussion at the hearing about the $4+
billion escalation, signs of which were first discovered last
September. “Frankly . . . our ability to forecast the
complexity of Station software engineering and technical
support has missed the mark,” Goldin told the committee.
While there will be considerable discussion regarding the
station in Congress this year, the debate will not be about
whether to continue building the station. Rather, it will be
about what kind of station the Congress wants to fund, and
while it is premature to predict with certainty the outcome,
the odds are that Congress and the Administration will decide
to increase the size of the box that the space station is in.


Richard M .Jones

Public Information Division

The American Institute of Physics


(301) 209-3095