WASHINGTON, D.C. – Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) delivered the following prepared remarks this morning and took questions from participants at the Aerospace States Association forum on, “America’s Future in Space:  What is the Vision?”:

“I want to thank you for inviting me here today to this important forum.  You’re focusing on the single most significant question we have before us in space policy  – and it’s one that the Congress and the Administration are spending a lot of time pondering these days. 

“But soon the time for pondering will be over, and the time for action will be upon us.  That will happen when the President sends up his fiscal 2005 budget next February, if not sooner.  To be successful, any ‘vision’ will have to be concrete and financially sustainable, and it will have to have broad and deep support within the Administration, Congress and the public at large.  That hasn’t happened for more than 30 years.  

“One reason it hasn’t happened is that it isn’t easy, and I’m still sorting through my own thoughts.  But let me lay out some general principles that I hope will guide the future of NASA and American civilian space programs.

“First, while I think a human presence in space is valuable and should be an aspect of our space program, I believe – as the Augustine Commission did – that space science and earth science programs are a higher priority.  They have more scientific benefit, expand our horizons further (literally and figuratively), and accomplish more at less risk and less cost than do human space flight programs.

“Second, any vision has to come with an affordable price tag.  Witnesses at our most recent Science Committee hearing on the future of human space flight estimated that we could accomplish significant new missions with a NASA budget that ramped up to about $20 billion and remained at that level.  That’s still a hefty increase – 33 percent – but it’s in the range of the possible over time. 

“Third, if we’re going to take on ambitious new human missions – and I think we should – then we can’t indefinitely perpetuate the existing elements of the human space flight program.  We need a date certain to stop flying the Space Shuttle and to decommission the International Space Station.  Obviously, both will remain in use until the end of this decade and probably beyond.  But while they’re in use, we need to ensure that they are, to the greatest extent possible, contributing to our longer-range missions.

“Fourth, we shouldn’t be committing to any new projects in human space flight until we have a better sense of what we’re trying to accomplish, of how long the Shuttle and Station will be in use, and of how much we’re willing to spend over the long haul.  That’s why Mr. Hall and I have called on NASA not to move ahead yet with a Request for Proposals for the Orbital Space Plane. 

“We’re not, by the way, calling for a complete halt to the program, but we don’t want to start taking steps that seem irrevocable.

“And fifth, we need a full, open and honest debate on how to proceed.  That often hasn’t been the case in the past.  NASA needs to be far more accurate in describing capabilities, risks and costs. 

“That’s especially important now that NASA is attracting the attention of a wider audience, albeit because of a tragedy.  We all need to take this opportunity to put NASA – and the nation – on a path that will be challenging, exciting and probing, and at the same time realistic, sustainable and productive. 

“That’s a difficult balance, but it can allow a range of ambitious activities – whether those involve going to Mars or returning to the Moon or increasing the commercial exploitation of space.  But none of that can happen without a clear-eyed appraisal of what we’re accomplishing now and how we can best move into the future.  Thank you.”