Last night during debate of the FY 2013 Commerce, Justice, Science (CJS) Appropriations bill, Rep. Pete Olson (R-TX) secured a commitment from Subcommittee Chairman Frank Wolf (R-VA) to work with Olson and other Members to address the safety concerns associated with a proposed closure of the NASA Arc Jet facility at the Johnson Space Center until a full review of concerns raised by NASA officials have been properly addressed. The proposed plan to consolidate NASA's thermal protection systems and atmospheric reentry materials testing facilities, known as arc jet facilities, could have damaging effects on the future of human space flight.
"NASA claims that the proposed consolidation will reduce costs while maintaining safety and mission assurance," Olson said. However, I believe that NASA has unduly fast-tracked this decision and overlooked safety and mission concerns, cost issues and program testing needs. I have asked NASA to suspend its work on closing the arc jet pending a thorough and independent review of those concerns, such as an investigation by the NASA Inspector General and the Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel. I hope that such a review will ensure that NASA does not make a shortsighted and regretful decision."
The 2011 NASA decision to close the arc jet facility at the Johnson Space Center has raised serious concerns. Senior NASA officials recently issued their own report outlining the detrimental effects this consolidation will have on NASA's testing capabilities, its ability to maintain unique institutional assets, and its ability to successfully develop NASA's human and robotic space systems. Concerns have also been raised with impacts on development of the Orion/MPCV, commercial crew vehicles, and other important space vehicles which all require arc jet certification of their thermal protection systems.