Hearing of the Space, Aeronautics, and Related Agencies Subcommittee of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee - Reauthorizing the Vision for Space Exploration
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SEN. DAVID VITTER (R-LA): Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
I agree with all of your comments and all of your perspective. This is not a partisan issue. This is not an ideological divide. I agree completely. And indeed, as a conservative, I believe the federal government should concentrate on select things that really only the federal government can do properly or adequately. And at least for the time being, well into the future, space is definitely one of those things, which can also have enormous benefit to other advances for our economy. So I agree with you completely.
And I want to thank you for this hearing but also for this hearing in the context of a path leading to the drafting and introduction and passage this year, hopefully, of a NASA reauthorization bill. I know the conventional wisdom up here is that nothing can happen this year. Well, I don't buy that conventional wisdom in a lot of respects, and I believe a NASA reauthorization bill can disprove it. And I think we can do it this year and we should sure as heck try very, very hard for all of the reasons you have laid out.
We do have enormous challenges in moving forward with our space program. We're facing, as you said, a period of time of when for purely budgetary reasons we'll have no U.S.-owned or U.S.-based option for delivering crews and cargo to what will finally be a completed international space station, including the U.S. National Laboratory finally ready to be used for research, promised really for the past 15 years.
And in order to protect that investment, in order to minimize that period of time when we don't have that capability, in order to do the research we've been building toward for 15-plus years, we need to look very hard at this gap and shrink it and mitigate it in any way possible. I think that's very important, again, for all the reasons you have laid out. Even the NASA administrator, Dr. Griffin, has called the current situation, quote, "unseemly in the extreme," closed quote, and I believe that's an understatement.
So this hearing is important in this process, hopefully leading to a reauthorization bill this year is important to look at how we closed the gap, to look at anything the COTS program and acceleration of that can possibly lend to that effort, to look at how we try to come up with 1 to 2 billion additional dollars and how exactly we would best use that as we move on to the next generation of NASA.
Now, we have understandably focused on the challenges. I think it's important though to also note the opportunities. I had a great honor of meeting with Gene Kranz yesterday, and we had a great visit, and he underscored a couple of things in terms of those opportunities. First of all, he said, and I agree with him, that we have a truly great plan that makes a lot of sense, that is on a par or better than any plan for the next step that NASA's ever had in its history. We also have -- he said and I agree -- a great administrator who has the confidence of the whole agency and the whole community, very respected here on Capitol Hill.
So we have a lot of things going for us as we take this next big step, but if that gap is too large, the big step is going to be too big to take, folks are going to become disenchanted, and we're going to lose a lot of talent in the program, which will set us back even further. And so clearly, our biggest challenge is to shrink and minimize that gap and move forward with this next-generation activity to stay at the cutting edge.
Again, Mr. Chairman, thank you for your commitment to pushing that process forward through a reauthorization bill. And like you, I'm very eager to hear the thoughts of all of our distinguished witnesses.
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SEN. VITTER: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. And I have to go to a swearing in of a new Louisiana colleague on the House side in a few minutes, but I'll certainly try to come back. But before I leave, I did want to get a couple of questions in.
Mr. Kranz, first of all, you praised the plan, which I assume includes the architecture of Constellation. In our reauthorization bill, would you suggest we spend any time, any ink, any paper looking back and re-examining that even briefly? There's been some suggestion from some folks that we should consider alternatives again, the Jupiter 120 architecture. Would you suggest we turn back, however briefly, before we set forth on a new course?
MR. KRANZ: No, I believe it's important that we don't waste too much time looking back. You know, in mission control -- go back to the Apollo 13. The basic objective of 13 was to get the crew on the track back home with what we thought was enough resources to get the job done. We then tuned that plan as we went along.
I have been personally a victim, and I think NASA has been victim, of so many studies that seem to be never ending, that burn up the resources, delay the schedule, disenchant the people who are executing them. I believe they've had very good visibility on the study and basically on the architecture. These graybeard sessions we had weren't just NASA folks. We had -- our contractor team comes in, we had leaders from Mercury, Gemini and an Apollo. This is I think a very well-seasoned plan.
So I would suggest that, again, the words I used: stay the course. Improve that as you will go along because you're going to have opportunities for improvement, but I think the basic plan is very sound, very well founded.
SEN. VITTER: Great, thank you.
Second question, also for you, Mr. Kranz: Schedule pressure was cited as some contributing factor in both Challenger and Columbia in terms of the accidents. Do you think there is a danger of creating significant schedule pressure like that by having a hard shuttle retirement date of September 30th, 2010, versus a policy that says these are the flights and the missions we're going to do, we're going to try to do them by 2010 but not as hard and firm a date?
MR. KRANZ: I went through the shutdown between the Gemini program where we had to move into Apollo. I never felt and I don't think the operators, the people down on the launch pads really feel any pressure. They are -- the only pressure they have is that which they put on themselves to do the job as safely and as professionally as human possible.
I don't think any operator -- I mean, you can move this aside. You can talk about media. You can talk about whatever you -- (inaudible) -- right on the line. But basically these people know their jobs. They're professionals at getting the job done. And I was very proud of the way that we concluded the Gemini program, right -- moved almost directly into the Apollo -- excuse me -- Apollo program. And I'm sure that the teams in place right now at the Cape and at Houston will handle this job very professionally.
SEN. VITTER: So the hard date basically doesn't bother you in that sense?
MR. KRANZ: No.
SEN. VITTER: Okay.
And Ms. Johnson-Freese, do you think our dependence on the Russians in the foreseeable future will actually lead to their leveraging that and affecting completely unrelated issues in terms of our relationship or trying to affect those issues?
MS. JOHNSON-FREESE: Very probably. The Russians became capitalists very quickly. They learned how to negotiate a tough deal very quickly. And I have no doubt that they have also learned the term spillover, that they will be able to leverage this wherever they can. I see dependence on anybody as an undesirable situation.
SEN. VITTER: Right. Well, their being capitalists, I mean, goes to the cost, and that's a big problem in my mind that we don't have other options. And so they, to some extent, can name the price. But my question is specifically, would you expect them to leverage it beyond dollars into policy in completely unrelated areas?
MS. JOHNSON-FREESE: I think they will try, Senator. I think they will certainly try.
SEN. VITTER: Okay.
MS. JOHNSON-FREESE: And again, I'm not very confident about relations with the Russians in the near term that we can count on them being friendly, as we'd like them to be.
SEN. VITTER: Right. Thank you very much.
And I'll certainly try to return, Mr. Chairman. Thanks for your leadership.
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