I want to thank Chairman Wyden and Senator Allen for holding this
hearing on shuttle safety – for the matter before us is of great

We’re not talking about dry numbers and ledgers. We’re talking
about the men and women who serve their country by exploring its
frontiers. We’re talking about an exploration program that – since
Alan Shepard lifted off aboard a Mercury rocket in 1961 – has provided
perhaps built the most valuable research available to people anywhere.
NASA technology touches the lives of Americans everyday, in many

More than 1,300 documented NASA technologies have gone beyond the
space program – including freeze-dried foods, cordless power tools,
and miraculous medical advancements such as CAT-scans and kidney
dialysis machines. The space shuttle program alone has generated
more than 100 technology spinoffs, including the artificial heart
– developed through technology used in space shuttle fuel pumps.
Even the insulating materials in NASCAR race cars come from shuttle
thermal technology.

So, as we move forward in this hearing, this is the importance
of the funding question before us. This is the importance of making
certain that we build, maintain and fly the safest vehicles possible.
It is against this backdrop – and this history of our space program
– that we delve into these very serious funding and safety questions.

I’ve asked for this panel of experts to speak to our committee
today because I fear that if we don’t provide the space shuttle
program with the resources it needs for safety upgrades, our country
will pay a price we can’t bear. The proposed budget abandons some
of the most critical safety upgrades for our aging fleet.

Under increased budget pressures we’ve got tough decisions to make
about spending priorities. But our decisions shouldn’t come at the
risk of the astronauts’ lives – and, in fact, whether or not we
are going to have a human space flight program. This budget fails
to adequately protect these astronauts.

Most think that we will continue to fly the shuttle until 2020
and perhaps a decade beyond that. But we are continuing to base
our budgetary decisions on the long-lost premise that the shuttle
would be replaced in two years. This is not planning, this is not
putting "safety first" – as NASA’s administrator continues
to claim. This is putting the safety of our shuttle fleet, the crews
and cargo, as well as people on the ground supporting the shuttle
all at an unnecessarily high risk.

In order to pay for continued operations of the shuttle fleet at
a flight rate of six per year in the face of these severe budget
constraints, NASA is abrogating its commitment to upgrade the shuttle
orbiters by canceling, deferring or "stretching-out" its
previous upgrade plan. At the same time, the agency has yet to request
any funds to make improvements to ground infrastructure, which literally
is falling apart.

Safety improvements considered critical two years ago now are discretionary
projects subject to available funding. All but one of the shuttle’s
pending safety upgrades have been targeted for cancellation or deferral.
NASA has cancelled continued work on the Electric Auxiliary Power
Unit, even though this upgrade was previously considered to be one
of the highest safety priorities of the agency.

At Kennedy Space Center, in order to protect people from huge pieces
of concrete falling from the ceiling of the vehicle assembly building,
a net has been strung up to catch any falling items.

The shuttle program part of the NASA budget is $218 million short
in the next fiscal year. And in the absence of a permanent leader
for the agency, decisions about NASA priorities are coming not from
NASA – but from bean counters at the president’s budget office.
We’ve got accountants making life and death technical decisions
for our astronauts, instead of engineers and program managers, who
have dedicated themselves to keeping the United States in the forefront
of space exploration.

We have an opportunity to fix this problem. Before we consider
the VA-HUD conference report, possibly next week, we can increase
the budget to pay for some of the safety improvements that are so
critical to our shuttle program. I urge my colleagues to join me
in seeking additional funding for this program.

As it stands, we’re starving NASA’s shuttle budget – and thus greatly
increasing the chance of a catastrophic loss. I wonder if the lessons
of Challenger are fading.

Let me say that I have the utmost respect for our witnesses here
today. They believe in the future of NASA, our human spaceflight
program, and they believe in reducing the risks for our astronauts
and ground crew to the lowest possible levels. I also believe that
their hands have been tied, that in recent months they have been
taken out of the decision loop. But, the witnesses on the two panels
here today represent the wealth of wisdom that we – the Congress
– have to guide us in making our decisions about NASA’s budget needs.

I look forward to learning from them here today.