WASHINGTON – Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) issued the following statement today in response to comments made yesterday by NASA Space Shuttle Program Manager Bill Parsons at a press briefing in Houston.  Parsons said that it was not likely that NASA would meet its original March 11 target date for returning the Shuttle to flight (STS-114) and might miss the next launch window in May as well.

Boehlert’s statement follows:

“I was very pleased to learn of Mr. Parsons’ statements.  Those statements mean that NASA is beginning to ‘get it.’  Schedule can’t be the driver in the Shuttle program.  Target dates are fine, but safety must govern.  NASA has a lot to do to meet the 15 return-to-flight recommendations of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board and, as I have said repeatedly, the March 11 date struck me as excessively ambitious.

“Many questions remain as NASA returns to flight – some of them concerning scheduling.  As I emphasized when we had Administrator O’Keefe before the Science Committee last week, I am concerned that the planned pace of flights following STS-114 looks too much like the schedule that was in place before the Columbia disaster.  We also still need to see how the Stafford-Covey Task Group functions and how NASA fleshes out its Return to Flight Plan.

“I met with General Stafford and Colonel Covey this morning, and I was impressed by their commitment to overseeing this process.  But there is still much we don’t know – and that no one can yet know – about the return to flight process.  As I said last week, the Science Committee will be following the entire return-to-flight enterprise as closely as is humanly possible.

“Our current plan is to have our next hearing on Oct. 1 on the possible visions for the future of the human space flight program.  We will then resume hearings on specific issues relating to reforming the Shuttle program in mid-October, assuming we know the House schedule with enough certainty.”