With the release today of the report of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board, the focus for setting future policy for the Nation’s civilian space program will shift to the Congress and the Administration.  A series of hearings in the House Science Committee will begin on September 4 and will extend through the remainder of the First Session of this Congress.

Cong. Ralph M. Hall (D-TX), Ranking Democrat on the Committee, stated, “I want to thank the Board members for their dedicated public service.  As we review the Board’s conclusions and recommendations over the next few months, I will be most interested in pursuing two issues.  First, I’m still troubled by the Board’s conclusion that the NASA’s plans for a “core complete” Space Station created schedule pressures that compromised safety in the human space flight program.  “Core complete” in my view was never a viable vision for the International Space Station, and the rush to achieve it was apparently even more damaging.

“Secondly, we need to vigorously pursue ways to make future Shuttle flights safe.  Just four weeks ago, the House of Representatives unanimously approved my amendment providing adequate funds for NASA to at least begin assessing Space Shuttle crew escape options seriously.  If we lose another Shuttle and its crew, the human loss will be a compounded tragedy, and the accompanying loss to the space flight program will be disastrous at best.  We are going to continue to rely on the Shuttle for many years to service the Space Station, and we need to do everything possible to ensure that if the Shuttle comes under threat in the future, the crew is given every possible opportunity to survive.”

Hall continued, “The Gehman Board is very critical of NASA’s culture but admits that it will be difficult to change.  It appears to me that safety has lost out in recent years to a myriad of other goals.  We simply have to put safety first, and if we have a third Shuttle loss without vigorously pursuing a crew escape system, then no one can save the American venture into space.

“Admiral Gehman recommends that NASA create a new and independent safety program.  It is high time that they do so.  As part of that new program, I pledge my support – to my colleagues in Congress, to NASA, to Administrator O’Keefe, and to the President – for all efforts aimed at ensuring that an escape mechanism is provided for future astronauts.”

Cong. Bart Gordon (D-TN), Ranking Democrat on the Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics, commented: “The Columbia Accident Investigation Board has done its job, now it’s time for us to do ours.  This report gives the Science Committee a road map for hearings into structural and cultural problems at NASA.  But, the Committee will not have done its work if we just listen to NASA mea culpas and do nothing to bring about changes in that culture that contributed to the Columbia tragedy.”