Live Blog – Senate Appropriations Science Committee

Overview of the fiscal year 2011 budget request for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

AmericaSpace Note: The written statements and other material from this hearing will be posted on the Senate Appropriations Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Subcommittee’s hearing site in a bit. We will have abbreviated video up shortly–sorry, we missed Mikulski’s opening statement.

SEN. BARBARA MIKULSKI
Time to retire the Space Shuttle
On to Constellation,

  • Great deal of focus on the President’s changes.
  • We want to be sure what the President does want to do: chance or restructure Constellation.
  • NASA requests $2.4B, below 2010 level by $1.4B.
  • President’s FL trip, President said he only wanted to restructure Constellation.

Issue of great interest by the Committee. Congress needs to know more. Is this the program Congress can support for years. Can’t invent NASA every 4 years with Administration changes. Has talked to Shelby and other members about this.

  • First, no matter what, astronaut safety is most important. We need the same safety standards for LEO as for BEO.
    We need a destination and clear direction. This keeps our mission and our budget focused.
  • A reliable safe transportation system for astronauts necessary in LEO and BEO.

  • Shuttle retirement will proceed as planned. This will dislocate a large number of people. Adding substantial changes to Constellation adds even more pressure to the aerospace workforce.
  • Puzzled how we are going to end one set of contracts while opening others and without costing taxpayers too much.

SEN. RICHARD SHELBY
Mr. Administrator, your plan only continues the end of our nation’s human space flight program.

This request abandons our only chance to maintain our leadership in human space flight.

This program subsidizes billionaires so that millionaires can travel in space.

No private research into claims made in Futron 2002 study of viability on commercial human space flight. Instead, Administration’s OSTP justification are based Futron study that has never been independently vetted.

Shelby just cited the Futron study itself and that its predictions that have not met reality.

Why should we support millionaire space tourists?

He’s unhappy Augustine’s Committee’s cursory mention of safety for commercial crew launches.

“The President canceled the wrong program.” Sounds like Shelby wants to go after the “rocket hobbyists” money.

Now mentioning NASA’s ASAP’s disclaiming of SpaceX’s claims of Falcon 9 and Dragon human rated.

Spends the rest of his comments slamming Bolden for first opposing commercial crewed flight then supporting it.

Now really going after Bolden. Basically saying he doesn’t support a strong national space program.

Ouch! Really slammed Bolden over his, and indirectly, Garver’s leadership. He’s apparently out for blood.

HATCH
Well, that’s interesting. UT Sen. Orin Hatch allowed to make a statement.

Mentioning Armstrong’s letter.

Now talking about ASAP’s 2008 study led by Bolden concluded that Ares I/Orion safest system. Backed-up by 2009 ASAP study.

We are exchanging NASA’s Constellation Ares I/Orion for systems built-up by start-up’s.

Constellation is part of building-up our nation’s space technology.

Now thanking Mikulski.

MIKULSKI
Thanking Hatch for his support of science. Now talking of former UT Sen. Garn, the former Chairman of Sen. Mikulski’s Committee, her fondness of working with him while he was Chairman and the help he gave her, and enthusiastically welcoming his statements concerning Constellation’s termination.

AmericaSpace Note: One can guess that Garn’s statement will not be favorable of the Administration’s plans for Constellation.

Now talking with Sen. Bennett, also of UT and big opponent of Adminstration’s plans to end Constellation, to get Bolden’s testimony and then that of Bennett, who has a schedule issue.

BOLDEN
Usual nonsense espousing the Administration’s “new” space policy. Given the opening statements by Mikulski, Shelby, Hatch, and likely Garn, sounds like la-la-land.

MIKULSKI
Has 14 page questions.

No. 1 concern is safety of astronauts. Many members have been to launches, but have also been there for Challenger and Columbia.

How will NASA ensure safety of astronauts? No double standards, tough for gov’t and then another for commercial.

Now slamming commercial (SpaceX) claims that it could have a vehicle ready in 3 years. Shuttle took much longer than planned. What will happen if those commercial claims are baseless.

BOLDEN
I led ASAP and I know that NASA wasn’t sharing human safety standards for commercial launchers.

We’re getting our human standards out to all human launchers.

Demonstrated reliability. Claiming that Ares I/Taurus/Falcon 9 all have demonstrated reliability of 0. They’ve never flown (never mind demonstrated reliability of Shuttle SRB’s, which are foundation of Ares I).

“No plan survives crossing line of departure”

MIKULSKI
So there will be one safety standard?

BOLDEN
Yes.

MIKULSKI
How do you intend to handle contract termination and employment issues?

Are all Constellation contracts under consideration of termination.

BOLDEN
We are transitioning Constellation from where it was when I inherited it and where it is now.

All contracts have stipulations that contractors need to have money available for termination.

MIKULSKI
I’m puzzled by this. Remind contractors that they must have reserve funds. But doesn’t that violate the language from 2010 about changing Constellation changes?

BOLDEN
We are not terminating any contracts. We are not telling contractors that they must reserve funds, only that they must have those funds.

MIKULSKI
I’ll ask more about this. On to Sen. Bennett. I have many more questions about this.

SEN. BENNETT
I’m a businessman and were I sitting on the Board of Directors hearing this, I’d say you haven’t made the sale.
The 4 areas where you’ve failed to make the sale are:

    Science
    Industrial Base
    Money
    Law

Holding-up a copy of Time Magazine’s 50 best inventions of the year that cited Ares I.

Reading the Time article about Ares I and its

The industrial base will not be around in 2015 if we do as the President suggests.

You shut-down the industrial base of solid rockets, it will not be around in 2015.

You have not made the case that this will save money.

A more responsible use of taxpayer dollars would be to use $8.8B in Administration’s budget for Constellation termination and new commercial spending.

Now talking about Bolden’s mis-statements about Ares I flight costs of $4B vs. Doug Cooke’s statements that marginal cost of Ares I flight is $176M. It takes a lot of Ares I flights at $176M to reach $4B.

ATK received a letter that no more money available after April 30th for launch abort work. That is an illegal termination of Constellation; that budget ends on Sept. 30, not April 30.

BOLDEN
Ares I-X was not Ares I. Ares I-X gave 700 pieces of data that shape and form of Ares I…

MIKULSKI
We don’t have time for a debate. Please answer the question.

BOLDEN
We haven’t directed anyone to stop work. LAS work still scheduled for May 5.

Industrial based over capitalized for the demands.

Big difference between DoD and NASA solid rocket motors. We use large, segmented SRM’s. Since Titan 4 termination, that

MIKULSKI
Administrator Bolden, we need better answers…
What about the law?

BOLDEN
We have not terminated any contracts.

MIKULSKI
Record will be open for Bolden and others to submit answers.

BENNETT
Thank you Madame Chairman. That would be fine. On to member Shelby.

SHELBY
Two articles. Globe & Mail-The Obama space plan lowers the ambition of America. Space is not the final frontier, earth is. Florida Today article-Obama doesn’t get it-space is the final frontier.

It has become apparent that NASA is spending a lot of time on how to avoid the 2010 appropriations language.

Please submit from NASA General Counsel letters about termination.

BOLDEN
That will be done.

SHELBY
It is my understanding that you have stated that Ares I/Orion is no safer than Falcon 9. But ASAP’s 2009 final report states otherwise.

What evidence do you have that Falcon 9 is safer than Ares I?

BOLDEN
My gut says Ares I safer but data doesn’t support that. I will provide that data.

SHELBY
Using Orion as a lifeboat will not help America provide its own human space flights other than that available from Russia.

BOLDEN
Orion would be cheaper because it’s only rated for return, not launching.

SHELBY
Wouldn’t it be cheaper to use a Dragon capsule?

BOLDEN
Yes, but Orion lifeboat would be ready in 3 years (implying that Dragon will not be ready in 3 years, though that’s claimed by SpaceX’s President in testimony).

SHELBY
Explain to Committee why you as NASA Administrator ignoring ASAP and overall safety folks are ignoring them.

BOLDEN
I listen to everyone on safety. Before we launch any commercial human vehicle, it will be safe.

SHELBY
But you benefited from NASA’s safety standards 4 times…

SEN. THAD COCHRAN (Ranking member of full Appropriations Committee)
Do you continue to believe in a robust testing program?

BOLDEN
Talking about money to Stennis to help commercial launchers.

COCHRAN
But there’s not money for testing at Stennis.

BOLDEN
Retro-fit to test stands is on-going.
We want it to be the center for testing centers for AF, commercials, and anyone else.

SEN. VOINOVICH
Talking about Glenn Research Center. Total NASA spending in OH exceeds $1.2B.

Constellation has been very important to NASA Glenn.

Now talking about U.S. budget deficits.

It’s important that you do a better job of what you are trying to do. Are you trying to get a rocket made real quick and you think private sector can do that? Do you want to go to Mars, as Bush originally wanted?

The question I have is that the fundamental shift that NASA has with commercial companies, what was it that NASA believed would necessitate such a dramatic overhaul of its relationship, budget or route?

BOLDEN
We are trying to meet expectations of Congress and nation Commercial Space Act that directed to help develop a commercial space industry. It’s a combination of things. We are not trying to do anything fast.

VOINOVICH
We need others to pay for ISS. People are concerned with how long we need Russian help to get to ISS.

BOLDEN
From day one, it was agreed that Russia would provide human transport while Shuttle would provide cargo transport.
President wants to build a sustainable exploration program.

VOINOVICH
You have a big job convincing this Committee that it was not sustainable and for pouring money already spent on Orion and Ares I down the drain.

SEN. KAY BAILEY-HUTCHSON
I hope Madame Chairman that Gen. Bolden will be able to attend my Commerce hearing, who said he could not make that hearing…

MIKULSKI
What date is that Sen. Hutchison and maybe the NASA Administrator’s staff can get back to us on that while we’re talking here…

HUTCHISON
April 28th…

BOLDEN
I think there’s been a misunderstanding. We’ll get to that.

HUTCHISON
Congress and the President have extended ISS til 2020 but we have no way of getting there. But it was always envisioned that Shuttle would be supporting ISS–it’s the only thing that can carry the equipment. NASA has been starved over several Administrations. You are going to need to work with us to preserve our ability for our own access. Spending $6B on start-up’s is very risky. You have all expenses of closing down contracts while opening new ones. I’m very skeptical and very disappointed. We are too heavily reliant on commercial launchers. From Commerce hearing earlier, those companies are not ready.

If Soyuz had an accident, how long could 6 person crew survive?

BOLDEN
If that scenario plays out before 2015, after Shuttle retired, we have no way to get Americans to the station. That would terminate all activity on ISS. Constellation would not solve the problem. The Gap grew starting in 2004. I could not ask President to spend the money to close the Shuttle-Constellation gap.

HUTCHISON
The starving of NASA began over 20 years ago, so let’s not place blame so much as address the issue. If skipping from Ares I to Ares V, I’m not committed to Constellation but to the mission. With all due respect, we should not add to Shuttle but delay the time-frame and can be done without asking for more money than President is asking. If we have over 2-3 years the same number of Shuttle flights, it would give us more a filling in of the gap for emergencies while we are developing our own Constellation-type program.

In your own testimony, we would be able to put humans into space early in the next decade that we won’t put people into space until the 2020’s.

BOLDEN
We will have humans going BEO by 2020.
Just got a new astronaut group to be at ISS.

HUTCHISON
Soyuz has an accident and we can’t get there for 2-3 years, how does ISS survive?

BOLDEN
In today’s environment, because we allowed this gap to grow, we will be single string once Shuttle stops flying…

HUTCHISON
We can do better than this.

MIKULSKI
Thanks Senator Hutchison. There are very many more questions. Mr. Frost has been very patient. Mr. Bolden, there will be many more questions for you. “I’m so proud of the work that is being done at Goddard.” Talking about infrastructure and industrial base support.

Now introducing Mr. Frost.

MR. FROST (NASA’s Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel)
Thank you Madame Chairman. It’s good to see that so many have read our 2009 report.

Now talking of ASAP’s founding from Apollo 1 fire.

Hasn’t a dog in the fight over Ares I vs. commercial launchers.

When it comes to safety of astronauts, nobody better than Charlie Bolden.

Now, on to our 2009 report…reading statement.

Use of heritage systems with their track record, Ares I/Orion have a 10-fold safety advantage over any existing system.

Safety as a taken cannot be taken as a given, as some (Augustine) would do when selecting a launcher.

Potential safety of systems cannot be evaluated until human standards are announced and those systems evaluated on those standards.

Bottom line is to not abandon progress made on existing systems until alternatives can be determined.

Facilities are degrading.

In conclusion, ASAP believes that America’s space exploration program stands at a cross-roads, safety cannot just be added on to existing systems (Falcon 9? Dragon?).

SHELBY
Can commercial launchers provide safe flight?

FROST
Someday those launches will be like commercial airline flights but that day is not here.

MIKULSKI
Let’s get to the issue of going commercial. There’s an inherent tension between innovation but at same time we are not sending Tang into space but our astronauts and those of other nations.

Now talking about human safety standards by NASA. Wants his comments on this.

FROST
NASA does have a NPR, updated in 2008, exempted commercial providers but had NASA as lead.

If you’re buying a taxi ride vs. buying a taxi, have different standards.

We want the commercial launchers to know the standards they have to meet.

By end of 2010, those human rating standards should be ready.

MIKULSI
So our safety standards won’t be ready til 2010?

FROST
Yes, and those will be only hardware, not process standards. Process standards will take longer than 2010.

MIKULSKI
The hope is that the commercial launchers will be ready in 3 years. But looking at development of Shuttle, which was ongoing when Sen. Shelby and I came to the Senate, and that did not come to pass as planned.

How could a commercial vehicle getting what they need to know in late 2010 be ready in 3 years?

FROST
My experience is that this will be a touch target to meet. The commercial launchers are developing hardware now when standards are not ready. So that could result in standards compromises.

MIKULSKI
So they are designing now?

FROST
Yes.

MIKULSKI
Hutchison’s scenario is serious. She could be right as she so often is. We are bipartisan here. Is Senator Hutchison on to something? Should Shuttle be extended?

FROST
Hutchison is absolutely on to something if a catastrophic failure occurs and being single-string. You could continue to fly Shuttle. Principally, it has a very high risk. The more times you fly, the sooner that risk hits.

MIKULSKI
So the Shuttle is risky to astronauts?

FROST
The Shuttle won’t wear out. The risk builds-up but that could be a risk that the nation and its astronauts would accept.

MIKULSKI
Could we hold a Shuttle on reserve? For rescue missions?

FROST
There are risks to flying not enough or too much. Workers forget processes.

MIKULSKI
Will ASAP Committee be involved in accessing safety evaluation of safety for commercial launchers?

Thank you Mr. Frost for your excellent testimony, it was very helpful.

SHELBY
Madame Chairman, I just want to thank Mr. Frost for his Committee’s work.

Want to be able to hold another hearing if warranted.

MIKULSKI
Absolutely we will hold another hearing (this ain’t over).

If we focus on where we want America to be in space and how we do that with safety, we can come together.

NASA will respond within 30 days.

Hearing is over.

1 comment to Live Blog – Senate Appropriations Science Committee

  • Daron

    I cannot believe Bolden would stand up (sit) in front of this panel and lie directly to them!