Hearing Airs Concerns with Sustaining Space Station and Fulfilling Research Potential
Washington D.C. – The Committee on Science, Space, and Technology today held a hearing to review NASA’s plans for conducting research aboard the International Space Station (ISS), and for ensuring essential spares, facilities, transportation and other resources are adequate to meet the research needs on the ISS thru 2020.
“The ISS is an extraordinary engineering achievement, and it is a remarkably successful international collaboration that presents us an unprecedented opportunity to accomplish beneficial scientific research,” said Chairman Ralph Hall (R-TX). “I would like to see the ISS live up to its promising potential. I would like to see it enable scientists and researchers to do innovative research – the kind of life-saving biomedical research that can only be done in space. Fulfilling the promise of the ISS would not only serve humanity, it would also strengthen America’s leadership in science, technology and education.”
Assembly of the ISS is now complete, and NASA’s focus is shifting from assembly and activation to utilization and maintenance. Currently, the U.S. laboratory section is about 50 percent utilized, and there are funding and access constraints that could affect the quantity and effectiveness of future research. The majority of supplies and spare parts were traditionally delivered by the Space Shuttle. NASA utilized the final two Shuttle flights to fully stock ISS and deliver large spare parts and other components that could not be delivered on smaller vehicles. As a result, NASA believes that the sparing needs of the ISS are met for the remainder of this year, but witnesses today expressed concerns that the Agency could face delivery shortfalls in the future.
Addressing ISS maintenance in the absence of assured American access, Gen. Thomas Stafford, who chairs NASA’s advisory council on ISS operations, expressed concerns regarding the readiness of commercial companies to resupply all of the cargo that will be necessary. Gen. Stafford testified that “the commercial vehicle launch schedule [is] overly optimistic and we have not received sufficient data to conclude with confidence that the schedule could be met.”
Representing NASA on today’s panel, Mr. William Gerstenmaier, Associate Administrator of the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate, expressed his confidence in future commercial resupply and discussed the importance of ISS research to future deep space exploration. “The ISS is NASA’s only long-duration flight analog for future human deep space missions, and it provides an invaluable laboratory for research with direct application to the exploration requirements that address human risks associated with deep space missions,” Mr. Gerstenmaier said. “It is the only space-based multinational research and technology test-bed available to identify and quantify risks to human health and performance, identify and validate potential risk mitigation techniques, and develop countermeasures for future human exploration.”
Testifying on behalf of the Government Accountability Office, Ms. Cristina Chaplain, Director of Acquisition and Sourcing Management, raised concerns regarding the extent to which NASA will be able to utilize ISS for research. “Although NASA has done a credible job of ensuring that the ISS can last for years to come, the question that remains is whether NASA will be able to service the station and productively use it for science,” Ms. Chaplain said. “Routine launch support is essential to both, but the road ahead depends on successfully overcoming several complex challenges, such as technical success, funding, international agreements, and management and oversight of the national laboratory.