American Geological Institute

Government Affairs Program

House Science Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics hearing on NASA's FY99 Budget Request (6-1-98)

Opening Statements
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), chair of the House Science Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics, announced that the hearing was intended to review the status, accomplishments, and requests for NASA's space, earth, life, and microgravity science program s. He joked that he hoped that scientists would better understand the El Nino weather phenomenon "before my congressional district washes away." He also commended witness Wesley Huntress, who is resigning, on his accomplishments at NASA.

The full written testimony of the witnesses is available from the subcommittee website.

Huntress, the outgoing NASA Associate Administrator for Space Science, reflected on the bleak outlook for space science projected in the FY 1995 budget request. He reported that the agency "turned around a dismal situation" to achieve tremendous accomp lishments in recent years. Past-year successes include data from the Mars Pathfinder, Mars Surveyor, Galileo, the Hubble Space Telescope, and the Solar Helioscope Observatory (SOHO). The current year will see more launches, including the next Mars mission , five Explorer missions, and the first of the New Millennium series. Huntress also briefly discussed the Space Science Enterprise Strategic Plan, released in November, which is organized around three themes: Origins, Evolution, and Destiny. He commented that his office is still working to realign its technology development programs with the strategic plan, and while he thought the FY 1999 request of $2.1 billion is "adequate," he admitted "we are probably not spending as much as we ought to be" in long-t erm advanced technologies.

Ghassam Asrar, the new Associate Administrator for Earth Science (formerly known as Mission to Planet Earth) provided several examples of recent accomplishments by the Earth Science Enterprise, including mapping Antarctica, understanding the role of oc eans in the Earth's climate, and understanding the chemistry and dynamics of the atmosphere. Asrar said that while 1998 will see the launches of EOS satellites AM-1 and Landsat-7, future EOS missions are still undergoing redefinition to "fully embrace" NA SA Administrator Daniel Goldin's philosophy of "faster, better, cheaper." Funding for Earth science in the FY 1999 request would stay relatively flat at $1.4 billion (an increase of 0.3 percent over FY 1998.)

The FY 1999 request for the Office of Life and Microgravity Sciences and Applications is $242 million, said Associate Administrator Arnauld Nicogossian. He admitted that funds had been transferred from space station-dedicated research programs within h is office to station development, but reported that "the long-term health of ISS utilization has not been affected." He added that additional shuttle research flights have been scheduled for 1998 and 2000 to ensure that the science community has continued access to the shuttle for research until science can be performed on the station.  

The new Associate Administrator for Human Space Flight, Joe Rothenberg, spoke about the progress made on the International Space Station and stated that it will "provide us with opportunities for explaining scientific and commercial development beyond those currently envisioned."

Question and Answer
Beginning the question and answer segment, Rohrabacher praised the Earth Science office for making progress in "remembering the goal is collecting data, not building satellites," but he scolded it for accruing $697 million in uncosted carryovers (unsp ent funds from past years.) Asrar said various delays in evaluating proposals and spending the money had led to the reserves, but pledged that NASA is working on the problem.  

Rep. Bart Gordon (D-TN) spoke about his poverty-stricken district and asked the NASA representatives why we are spending money in space when some areas can't afford school buses. Huntress admitted that we do not know exactly what benefits space explora tion will produce, but listed medicine and mining as possible avenues. He also noted that less than 3 percent of our federal budget is spent on research and development, and said that although the country needs to address its current problems, exploration will produce discoveries and knowledge, which will provide a better and more competitive future economy.

While praising the "faster, better, cheaper" philosophy, space station opponent Rep. Tim Roemer (D-IN) called the station a "slower, bloated, not-even-mediocre" program that was eating into other NASA programs. Texas Democrat Ralph Hall, a long-time st ation supporter, said he was beginning to agree with Roemer's criticisms. He called the transfers from the station's life and microgravity science funding to its development "a sorry situation." Rothenberg and Nicogossian tried to explain that NASA had de termined that the money would be better spent at this time in taking advantage of cost savings on development, instead of putting it toward research that the program was not yet ready for. Rothenberg testified that in the last two years, approximately $46 2 million has been transferred from life and microgravity science to station development; NASA plans to return at least $350 million to the science program in the years 2001-2002. "We have to complete development of the station and get it on orbit to have any research facilities," he stated. Hall countered, "Is there going to be anything left" to do research with? When challenged by Roemer about further growth in the cost of the space station, Rothenberg said the program had enough flexibility to absorb a schedule slip of a few months, but he was not prepared for major setbacks.

Sources: Hearing testimony, American Institute of Physics

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Prepared by Kasey Shewey, AGI Government Affairs
Posted June 1, 1998
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