A vision for new exploration
During the nearly 12 months that have passed since the tragic loss of the Space Shuttle Columbia and her crew of seven men and women, my colleagues on the House Science Committee and I have held many hearings addressing the causes of the Feb, 1, 2003 accident.
Included among these hearings was a thorough review of the final report issued by the Columbia Accident Investigation Board (CAIB) and its series of recommendations to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to ensure, foremost, the safety of any future shuttle missions and their crews if or when the program of manned flights was resumed.
This past week, President Bush provided further impetus for a continuation of both a manned and robotic space flight program. The president's proposal includes a concentration on returning man to the Moon and the future exploration of Mars.
Let me state at the outset that I am not committed to any human space flight program which does not place as its first priority the safety of the crew. Any decisions to return humans to space must also take into account budget realities and NASA's ability to administer its programs productively, effectively, and safely.
The president's vision for the nation's space exploration program affirms a commitment to manned space exploration with a reorientation of NASA's programs. The president's reorientation proposal includes a renewed interest in the Moon, a change in function while completing the International Space Station (ISS), and the design of a new manned space vehicle.
The plan offered by President Bush foresees putting robots on the Moon by the year 2008, thus paving the way for humans to arrive between 2015 and 2020. The Moon will then serve as a staging ground and possible source of supplies for future flights.
Additionally, the president anticipates a completion date of 2010 for the International Space Station (ISS), which will continue to be serviced by the space shuttle program until completion. The space shuttle vehicles will eventually be replaced by new crew exploration vehicles that will be tested by 2008 and likely manned by 2014.
The ISS program would be dependent on our 15 partner countries and their space programs to assist between 2010 (the termination date for the shuttle program) and 2014, when the new crew exploration vehicle is scheduled for completion. Further, under the president's plan, the purpose of the ISS would be refocused on the prospect of human life in space. As a result of this shift in priorities, it is anticipated that some scientific programs currently underway or scheduled on the ISS would be cancelled.
Finally, the planned crew exploration vehicle would ensure the safe launch of humans, supplies, and robotics to the Moon and beyond.
The president is appointing a commission that will study and make recommendations on how this vision for future space exploration could be implemented with a strong focus on safety and productivity. The commission will issue a report of its findings in approximately 120 days.
To fund the plan that he has proposed, President Bush has stated his intention to reallocate $11 billion already budgeted to NASA and set aside an additional $1 billion over the next five years. From the current 2004 level of $15.4 billion, the president's proposal will increase NASA's budget by an average of five percent per year over the next three years, and at approximately one percent or less per year for the following two years.
The Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, AL, will continue to play a critical role in facilitating NASA's space exploration program. The unique skills and experience of our workforce and NASA's world class in-state facilities will allow Alabama and Marshall to continue their pioneering role in space exploration. With a great deal of eagerness and anticipation, everyone involved with Alabama's participation in the space flight program looks forward to the many challenges and goals on the horizon.
As the only Congressman from Alabama serving on the Science Committee, I look forward to addressing this plan and the commission's report in the upcoming months.