Statement of

Michael James McCulley

Chief Operating Officer

United Space Alliance

Before the

United States Senate

Committee on Commerce, Science, and

Subcommittee on Science, Technology,
and Space

Hearing on Shuttle Safety

September 6, 2001


Michael J. (Mike) McCulley is Chief Operating Officer of United Space Alliance (USA) and
has primary responsibility for the day-to-day operations and overall management of USA,
the prime contractor for the Space Shuttle Program. Mr. McCulley, a former astronaut,
was named to this position in November 1999.

Prior to being named COO, Mr. McCulley was Vice President and Deputy Program
Manager for the Space Flight Operations Contract (SFOC), where he assisted USA’s
Vice President and Program Manager in the management of the Space Shuttle Program.

Mr. McCulley also served as the Vice President and Associate Program Manager for
USA’s Ground Operations at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Named to this
position on June 1, 1996, he was responsible for directing the integration of all processing
activities associated with America’s Space Shuttle program to ensure safe and
successful fulfillment of all company contractual commitments to NASA.

A retired U.S. Navy captain and a former NASA astronaut who logged more than 119
hours in space, Mr. McCulley piloted the highly successful STS-34 Shuttle mission in
October 1989. The crew deployed the Galileo spacecraft on its six-year journey to
explore Jupiter.

Following his retirement from NASA and the Navy, Mr. McCulley was employed by
Lockheed Martin Space Operations in October 1990 and served as Vice President and
Deputy Launch Site Director for the Kennedy Space Center. He was promoted to
Director in November 1995.

Mr. McCulley received his Navy commission in 1970, and, following flight training, served
tours of duty in the A-4 “Skyhawk” and A-6 “Intruder” aircraft. He also served as a Navy
test pilot and has logged over 5,000 hours in more than 50 types of aircraft.
Mr. McCulley is a graduate of the Lockheed Executive Institute and holds numerous
governmental awards and decorations including the NASA Public Service Medal and the
Legion of Merit from his Naval service. He also is the recipient of the National
Management Association’s Silver Knight of Management Award. In addition, he received
the Child Advocate of the Year Award for the State of Florida from the Children’s Home
Society, an organization dedicated to services for children and young mothers.

Active in community affairs, he served on the board of governors for the Brevard
Community College Foundation, as an advisory board member for Space Camp and
currently serves on the curriculum advisory committee for the engineering school at
Purdue University.

Mr. McCulley earned both his bachelor and master degrees in metallurgical engineering
from Purdue University in Lafayette, Indiana.

Chairman Wyden, Senator Allen, Senator Nelson and Members of the
Subcommittee: Thank you for the giving me the opportunity to testify before your
subcommittee on a subject that is very important to our nation – Space Shuttle

Good afternoon, I am Mike McCulley, Chief Operating Officer of the United Space
Alliance (USA). USA is responsible for the day-to-day management of NASA’s
Shuttle fleet under a single prime contract, the Space Flight Operations Contract
(SFOC), awarded by NASA in 1996. The company employs over 10,000 people,
primarily in Texas and Florida. USA’s mission is safe operation of the Shuttle and
the International Space Station (ISS). We plan the flights, train the astronauts, and
prepare all of the hardware and software for launch, mission, and landing of the
Space Shuttle as well as support the ISS on orbit.

Prior to joining USA, I managed the Lockheed Martin contract at Kennedy Space
Center. I also had the opportunity to pilot the highly successful Galileo mission on
STS-34 in 1989. I come before you today with seventeen years of experience on
the Shuttle program. Working over 80 Shuttle missions in 8 different jobs from
weather pilot to astronaut to manager, I can state with certainty that the Shuttle
program today is at the most robust and safest condition in its history.
Together with NASA, the USA Team works continuously to reinforce the “safety first”
culture of the Shuttle program. I am very proud that in the past eleven months, the
Shuttle team successfully launched and landed 8 missions, which represents the
highest flight rate in several years. Those flights have contributed to the
establishment of a permanent outpost in low earth orbit.

In order to continue supporting the Nation’s Human Space exploration goals, USA
and NASA have implemented significant initiatives to further improve Shuttle
operations as well as our performance. We have exceeded all of our industrial
safety goals by substantial percentages and are performing significantly above the
aerospace industry average. Having safely and successfully launched 29 Shuttle missions since the inception of SFOC in 1996, USA gained invaluable experience and is now
working closely with NASA to implement upgrades to the flight hardware, improve our
processes and recommend improvements to ground facilities. However, in my opinion, our
drive toward efficiency has moved us below sufficient funding for the many years of
Shuttle operation ahead of us.

Over the past decade, the Space Shuttle Program has done an outstanding job of
continuing safe operations while reducing cost. Under the SFOC contract, USA and
NASA have saved the American taxpayers $1.2B to date. USA has under-run the
SFOC contract every year, and POP submissions to NASA reflect under-runs in
GFY01 and GFY02. In addition to the savings realized under SFOC, NASA has
reduced the Space Shuttle account by 40% since FY90. The Shuttle program
succeeded in meeting reduced budget guidelines by achieving operational
efficiencies, eliminating program reserves, and reducing its uncosted obligations to
a level unacceptable for a program of this complexity. The budget limitations drove
the Shuttle program to allow flight hardware upgrades and ground infrastructure
projects to remain unfunded.

As you may recall, at the time NASA signed the USA SFOC contract, the agency
expected to phase in a Reusable Launch Vehicle (RLV) to ultimately replace the
Shuttle fleet in 2004. As a result, NASA’s management plans for Shuttle out-year
budgets were greatly reduced, and plans for orbiter fleet and ground infrastructure
improvements were very limited. Now, the Shuttle program is being asked to fly for
many more years, yet the current and out-year budget profiles remain unchanged.

USA believes that both the Congress and the American people support the
continuation of the Federal Government’s efforts to maintain human presence in
space. If we are correct, the Space Shuttle Program is the link to all human space
flight initiatives. The next generation launch vehicle is at least a decade away. The
safety of our astronauts is paramount to USA and NASA, and it is obvious from the
statements made on the Senate Floor by Members of this Committee, this objective
is paramount to the Congress as well. USA strongly agrees with the emphasis of
the Congress on the need to prioritize funding for the Shuttle program, in particular,
the safety upgrades. Moreover, we believe that the long-term budget policy of the
Federal Government should reflect a determination to refrain from reducing safety
upgrade initiatives and ignoring ground infrastructure requirement. Prudent, timely
and pre-planned modifications and upgrades of the Shuttle must be a national
priority that transcends the budget limitations of any given year. Affordable
upgrades are an essential investment in retaining the value of this indispensable
national asset.

Today, I have been asked to focus my remarks on safety upgrades, infrastructure
and the Shuttle workforce.


The Space Shuttle is the foundation for our Nation’s continued human access to
space in the 21 st Century. It is uniquely capable of carrying humans into space while
simultaneously providing the ability for heavy lift, rendezvous, docking, space
walking, micro-gravity research, and new technology testing. These capabilities are
unmatched elsewhere in the world.

At the direction of Congress, in the FY01 budget, NASA was provided additional
funding to initiate the High Priority Safety Upgrades Program. NASA and its
industry team have embarked on a systematic approach to upgrading and
maintaining the Shuttle system.

Contrary to some perceptions, the Shuttle Upgrades program has done exactly what
it was designed to do during project formulation: define requirements, establish
project costs and schedules, and produce initial designs. I’d like to take this
opportunity to provide the Committee with some information on the outstanding
progress that has been made on these projects and the need for their continued

New designs for Shuttle steering systems will eliminate the use of explosive and
highly toxic hydrazine fuels. These new designs reduce hazards for both astronauts
and ground crews. Complete integrated system prototypes of these designs, which
could replace the current Auxiliary Power Units (APUs), have been built and tested.
I am proud to say that this summer these prototypes have performed full mission
simulations that meet and/or exceed current Shuttle capabilities on high fidelity test

The Orbiter APU prototype, known as the Electric APU (EAPU), would eliminate the
single largest risk to Orbiter flight safety. The EAPU reduces the APU’s contribution
to Orbiter flight risk from 30% to less than 5%. This project has advanced the state-of-
the-art for spacecraft batteries and demonstrated that they have more than
enough energy for their intended usage. Electric motors and pumps have also been
built and tested that can provide the hydraulic power necessary to move Shuttle
main engine actuators and aerodynamic surfaces. With requirement definition
complete and many technical issues solved, the project is ready to produce detailed
and cost-efficient designs.

The current APUs on the Solid Rocket Boosters use the same hazardous hydrazine
fuel, and, similarly, represent a significant Shuttle safety risk. Multiple prototypes
were created for this system, and each met mission requirements. A very simple,
low-risk design was selected that uses safe helium gas in a blow-down
configuration. The design not only has shown to be effective and efficient, but also
has made use of composites technology from the X-34 program to reduce weight.

We have seen significant progress in the formulation and definition of the Cockpit

Avionics Upgrade (CAU) over the last year and a half. The CAU is an important safety
upgrade to the Orbiter that will greatly improve the situational awareness of the crew and
reduce their workload, particularly in unexpected and critical emergency situations.

Prototyping activities for the CAU software and hardware have clearly proven the
safety benefits of this upgrade as well as the major modification required to the
heritage onboard computers. Display prototypes have been evaluated by flight
crewmembers against established criteria and have improved the increased
response and performance by the crew in life critical situations. A hardware
prototype of the new direct access capability to the onboard computers has proven
the ability for all parameters contained in those computers to be available for
display to the crew, thereby further enhancing their ability to have full control and
reaction capability. Not only do these prototypes demonstrate the feasibility of key
architectural components of CAU, they also reduce the risk associated with the
development of the system.

Designs for the Advanced Health Monitoring System (AHMS) for the Space Shuttle
Main Engines continue to achieve greater definition, and a prototype is planned for
a ground experiment in spring 2002. New engine controllers, new software and
added computer power will “see” trouble coming a split second before it can do
harm, thus allowing either a safe engine shut down or commanding a reduced
utilization of the engine thereby increasing landing and/or orbit options.

A number of smaller improvements also add significantly to overall Shuttle safety. A
new tire has been tested that will support higher landing speeds and provide greater
safety margins. Likewise, new welding technology has been developed that can
increase weld strength and fracture toughness on the External Tank. Finally, a
modification to the Orbiter’s radiators and wing leading edges that substantially
reduces their susceptibility to orbital debris penetrations has nearly been completed
across the Shuttle fleet.

There are other product-improvement efforts that can further enhance the safety and
operability of the Space Shuttle, particularly if it is to fly for an additional 10 years or
more. Delaying the implementation of these improvements will expose flight crews
to higher levels of risk for longer than necessary.

Also under consideration is the slippage of scheduled Orbiter Major Modifications
[OMM’s]. This slippage may initiate a damaging trend, as budgets at NASA are not
expected to improve. Delayed maintenance will delay incorporation of the
upgrades creating detrimental fleet-wide implications. We prudently conduct
scheduled OMM’s, which we believe are essential to ensuring the integrity of the
vehicle. On-schedule, fleet-wide modifications are necessary and prudent –
consistency in configuration of the Orbiters is a must for training, safety, and
reliability of operations.
USA believes that proposed cancellations or reductions in the Space Shuttle

upgrades budget are due to shortfalls in available NASA budgets, and are not the
result of the projects’ lack of contribution to overall Shuttle safety improvements.

USA believes that NASA policy should be to dedicate the entire amount of funds
provided by the Congress for safety upgrades to the highest priority Space Shuttle
safety upgrades initiatives. If technological challenges make it impossible to move
aggressively forward on one project, NASA should revise its timetable for
implementation or redirect to the next project, rather than reprogramming the funds
for other purposes.

The continued, safe operation of the Space Shuttle is paramount until its
replacement vehicle is in place.


Space Shuttle ground facilities are essential to safe and reliable operation of the
Shuttle fleet. Crumbling equipment has already begun to adversely affect program
performance and safety. Necessary upgrades to the infrastructure supporting the
Shuttle program at the four Human Space Flight Centers (KSC, JSC, MFSC, SSC)
can no longer be ignored.

NASA’s own Space Flight Advisory Committee (SFAC), a Subcommittee of the
NASA Advisory Council, recently reported that the Shuttle might be operational for
at least a decade beyond its originally predicted 2012 lifetime. Two quotes from the
2000 SFAC Report are apropos at this point: “For a system that will go well beyond
the 2012 timeframe, attention must be given to this infrastructure. This should be
a separate budget initiative”
; and,  “Flight hardware upgrades alone won’t keep
Shuttles operating into the 2020’s without ground upgrades also.”

Unfortunately, for years the NASA budget has not included funding for critical Shuttle
infrastructure projects. Infrastructure revitalization appears to have become the
“unwanted stepchild” of the budget process. The need to address infrastructure is a
well-documented issue and represents a glaring deficiency in the NASA budget.
Eroding infrastructure is creating long-term issues of reliability and supportability.
There have been incidents where eroding infrastructure has created serious safety
concerns and launch delays. Some of the infrastructure impacts and concerns

In the Launch Control Center (LCC), operators have had to change firing rooms for
each of the last two launches because of computer interface failures.

Within the last six months, the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) had to shut down
during stacking because of antiquated load breaker switches, which have a

potential to explode and burn.

Although NASA has spent millions of dollars to crutch the crumbling 8-acre VAB
roof and corroded exterior paneling on the facility, paneling designed to withstand
winds in excess of 100 mph, is being blown off the facility at winds of half the design

The corrosive salt air environment of the Florida coast and launch plume
impingement on the Shuttle launch pads result in a continuing battle against
corrosion. Although the launch pads are periodically refurbished, the extensive
amount of structure and operational activity restrictions has resulted in serious
corrosion problems that need attention.

There are also corrosion and obsolescence issues with respect to the
crawler/transporters and the mobile launch platforms that have been in service since
Power, water, high-pressure gas, steam, and communications cabling distribution
systems are suffering increasing failures due to age degradation and
obsolescence. These basic utility distribution systems, at multiple operational
locations, have outlived their design life.

One-of-a-kind test equipment used for flight hardware repairs and spare parts
production have been in service since the early 1970’s and are not expected to last
through the now-extended Shuttle program life.

At JSC, outdated, unsupported computer systems operated by obsolete computer
languages are performing critical flight software validation. In some cases, these
systems are still loaded with punch cards.

The Electrical Power Systems Laboratory (EPSL), a one-of-a-kind replica of the
Space Shuttle Electrical Power Distribution and Control System, is over 20 years
old. Trends indicate major maintenance costs in the near term unless major
updates in test equipment, facilities, and maintenance of this unique Shuttle asset
are made.

At Stennis Space Center, propellant barges are in dire need of having their old
mechanical and electrical systems replaced as well as having their hulls overhauled
in dry dock. The barges operate in a harsh, corrosive atmosphere on a continuous
basis. Barge overhaul has not occurred in over 15 years, yet, the Coast Guard
recommends every 5 years. Additionally, recent operating experience and
inspection of the barges indicate a loss or compaction of vessel insulation.
Large High Pressure Industrial Water (HPIW) Pumps that provide water for flame
bucket cooling and deluge water to the Shuttle main engine test stands are in need
of refurbishment. These pumps were installed at Stennis Space Center in the mid-

1960’s. The rotating elements of the pumps and gearboxes need to be replaced to assure
reliable service.

One half of annual maintenance budgets are spent band-aiding systems that are
failing and then maintaining the band-aids, which becomes an additional
maintenance burden. Expensive makeshift fabrications are a common occurrence
as obsolescent spare parts and replacement units become harder and harder to

We believe infrastructure improvements can wait no longer. The Federal
Government must begin to budget annual funds to address NASA’s prioritized list of
infrastructure projects.


USA has become increasingly concerned that NASA will resort to reductions in the
number of Shuttle flights as a stopgap method of accounting for anticipated
shortfalls in its budget. Reduction of the number of Shuttle flights presents serious
erosion in the capability of NASA to engage in human space flight activities. USA
does not believe that a reduction in space flights is in the best interest of the Nation.
Moreover, such an approach fails to recognize the impact of flight rate on program

The Shuttle program’s extraordinary achievement in operational efficiencies was
driven by NASA’s desire to help sustain the Shuttle program, thus assuring that the
workhorse of the nation’s Human Space Flight programs would be available to meet
the full demands of research and human development of space. Reducing the
number of flights as a budgetary tool wipes out years of developing these operating
efficiencies. At some point, reduced activity eliminates operating efficiencies and
results in unjustifiable increased operating costs on a per mission basis. A flight
schedule of at least six flights per year must be maintained to sustain the efficiency
of the Shuttle Program. Flight reductions also threaten to seriously erode and
irreparably harm the entire Human Space Flight program. Reducing the flight
schedule below six flights per year will force a delay in the pace of the Space
Station assembly thereby driving further ISS cost growth as the assembly process
stretches in time. A decision to limit Shuttle flights would also severely limit
opportunities for space based scientific research, which remains a top priority for
the Congress.


The Shuttle workforce is at the lowest number of personnel it has ever been, and yet,
through numerous efficiencies, it is achieving the aggressive goals of the Space
Shuttle Program with the best record in its history of on-time launches (Excluding
weather, the last 6 missions launched without delays.) and lowest number of in-flight

anomalies (IFA) (averaged 20 IFAs in FY92 and steadily decreased to an average of 4 in
FY00). The workforce total has stabilized over the past two years and morale is high. Even
with the prospect of a lower flight rate, the demands on the workforce are increasing
due to aging hardware, upgrades implementation, and normal lifecycle
modifications. We need to be ever watchful that this very talented and dedicated
workforce is protected and augmented when necessary. The experience of our
management, engineering, and technician personnel will keep an aging Shuttle
program at its highest level of efficiency. The dedication and skill of this workforce
is the cornerstone of Shuttle safety.


Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee, USA is proud to operate this
unique and indispensable national asset. The Space Shuttle is a critical part of the
Nation’s space infrastructure and must continue to fly safely for at least another
decade, possibly longer. To ensure continued safe and efficient operation of the
Nation’s Shuttle fleet, NASA and USA must pursue vehicle hardware, processing
and ground facility improvements. Safety, maintainability and obsolescence issues
must not be allowed to cripple the progress of our Nation’s human space flight
program while next generation systems are being developed. Given the likely lead
times associated with the definition, funding and development of a new human-rated
space vehicle, the Space Shuttle should be acknowledged and supported as the
primary method for humans to reach the ISS throughout the Station’s life.

Over the past decade, the Space Shuttle program has done an outstanding job of
continuing to fly the Shuttle safely and reliably while reducing costs. The Space
Shuttle program is now under-funded. If we hope to continue our world leadership
role in human space flight, it is imperative that adequate funding be provided to
keep the Shuttle flying safely and reliably, including specific funding for Shuttle
upgrades and infrastructure revitalization.

Thank you for this opportunity to testify before your Subcommittee. I will be happy to
answer any questions you might have.