Committee Members Present:
The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation held a hearing on July 25 to discuss the current operations and possible future for the International Space Station (ISS). ISS has hosted human astronauts from Russia, Canada, Japan, Europe and the U.S. since 2000. ISS is unique because experiments conducted there are free from the effects of gravity. This allows researchers to gain significant insight from experiments in combustion physics, virology, astronomy and meteorology. The U.S. involvement in ISS was called into question in 2010 when President Barack Obama halted manned space missions by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to the station. Since 2010, supplies and American Astronauts have been transported to ISS by the Russian Space Agency (Roscosmos) and American corporation SpaceX.
Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) opened the hearing as the chairman of the Subcommittee on Science and Space and acting chair of the full committee. He began with a description of ISS which he called an “extraordinary contraption.” He said the station is “as large as a whole football field” and contains research from many countries and corporations. He explained that since the closure of the manned spaceflight program, the most recent U.S. crew on the station was delivered by Rosocosmos. Since the successful transportation of experiments and supplies by the SpaceX craft on May 25, 2012 Nelson said he hopes Americans will no longer have to be delivered to the station by foreign nations. He “tooted the horn” of Ranking Member Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) for her role in making the U.S. module of the ISS a national laboratory. Nelson said this opens the way for more U.S. companies to transport research to the station.
Hutchison began her opening statement by praising the accomplishments of recently deceased astronaut Sally Ride. Beyond being the first woman in space, Hutchison said Ride was “committed to physics and science” and their usefulness to humankind. Ride told Hutchison in an interview that the “ability to work with people” is the most important trait to exhibit in accomplishing humanity’s goal to explore space.
The ranking member said she and Nelson set up this hearing “to keep NASA in the forefront” and ensure Americans know its many benefits. She said she envisions ISS as a national lab which can be used by federal agencies and private entities. She acknowledged the role of mapping equipment in satellites like ISS in homeland security. She cited the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS-02) as a possible “unforeseen practical benefit” of the space station. The apparatus detects dark matter in space, and was almost left off the ISS because of budget cuts in fiscal year 2010. Now the AMS-02 has measured over 18 billion hits of cosmic rays for evidence of dark matter.
Chairman John Rockefeller (D-WV) did not attend the hearing but submitted an opening statement which said ISS is “a unique opportunity to inspire our children’s interest in … the STEM fields.” He mentioned the YouTube Space Lab Challenge, which brings high school students’ science projects to the station. The chairman said U.S. involvement with the station will allow private companies to conduct research in microgravity conditions. Since the station’s construction has been completed in 2011, all focus can be turned towards practical research on the station to benefit people’s everyday lives.
William Gerstenmaier, Associate Director for Human Exploration and Operations of NASA, began his testimony by saying astronauts on ISS are “doing research every day” in fluids, combustion, material processing and vacuum interface. He said researchers on the station work for around 14 hours a day, performing maintenance and construction duties while conducting this important research. The Japanese portion of the station contains equipment to observe Earth hazards like earthquakes and volcano eruptions which Gerstenmaier stated was “necessary to security” on Earth. He said he is hopeful about the future of ISS, saying the involved agencies are “making it easier” to get research into space. He closed by touting research and “the platform of discovery.”
Donald Petit, NASA astronaut, provided his testimony as a veteran space-explorer with three missions on ISS. Petit was on the space station for six months in 2002 and 2003, and had just returned from an eight month trip which spanned two expeditions at the time of the hearing. He said he feels the duty of explorers in every age is to “tell stories about what it means to explore.” Space is “one of the many frontiers” and “rich in discovery” according to Petit who said he hopes the federal government will support the U.S. commitment to the station.
Thomas Reiter, Director of Human Spaceflight and Operations of the European Space Agency (ESA), said ISS is a “unique platform for research and technology development” in his testimony. He discussed the joint NASA and ESA-run ISS module Columbus contributions to fluid physics and materials science. Materials research has produced lightweight alloys which are now used in jet engines. Reiter said he hopes the future of ISS will support exploration beyond low-earth orbit, perhaps boosting the station to the LaGrangian point, the point where an object is no longer affected by Earth’s gravity. The LaGrangian point between the Earth and moon could serve as a way station for transport between the two bodies.
James Royston, Interim Executive Director for the Center for Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS), discussed his role in promoting the ISS in his testimony. The goal of CASIS is to “maximize investment on the national lab (ISS)” according to Royston. He said his organization works with academia and industry to transport research to the station, and has increased the speed of this transportation. He suggests seeking “new players” to test consumer products in space, and promoting education to students about the station. Royston said “history will look at this moment” as the beginning of an extremely lucrative partnership between industry, academia and government.
During the question and answer period, Nelson asked about viral vaccination research on the station. Gerstenmaier said viruses mutate to various strengths and strains in space. He explained if researchers can better understand this process, they can learn which genes dictate these factors and make more effective vaccines. Hutchinson asked if hazard observation can be done on another satellite. Gerstenmaier said ISS is the best place to test new equipment because of its size and operational capability. Petit added that it takes a human being to “know what to look at” while the equipment is being perfected. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) asked for a summary of other advances which “justify the expenditures” of U.S. support of the station. Petit explained astronauts study combustion outside the influence of gravity saying, “Fire brought us out of the cave.” Reiter said the station is a “great platform to do Earth observation.” He said there is “great value” to seeking knowledge for its own sake, and most research on the station will create tangible benefits. Gerstenmaier added that every physical process influenced by gravity can be better understood without it.
Hutchison asked for the panel’s recommendations on how research on the station can be improved. Petit said the three U.S. crew members are already “stretched thin”, but he said that since construction on the station is completed, more time can be devoted to research. Reiter suggested that it is too early to tell how to improve efficiency because the station has just reached a “quasi steady-state.” Royston, prompted by Nelson, explained CASIS’s role in managing ISS research. He said CASIS provides the “baseline” to researchers by gathering ISS research and passing it on to the community.
Senator John Boozman (R-AK) asked if NASA has lost capability to do significant research on the station without U.S. shuttles. Gerstenmaier answered that NASA can still bring research to space, but needs multiple ways to bring the crew to space and back for safety reasons. Petit passionately explained the need for human astronauts at the station and elsewhere, saying it “would break [his] heart” to tell students they could not go to space.
Hutchison asked about the possibility of extending ISS past 2020. Gerstenmaier explained NASA and the other countries’ space agencies are still looking at physical systems of the station, trying to determine the “life-limiting factor” of ISS. NASA’s current estimate is that the station could last until 2028 with proper maintenance and supply.
Witness testimony, opening statements and an archived web cast of the hearing can be found on the committee’s web site.
Committee Members Present:
On July 25, 2012, the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology hosted a hearing to review draft legislation to reauthorize the National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS) and evaluate the state of drought forecasting, monitoring, and decision-making. The NIDIS Reauthorization Act would authorize $13.5 million per fiscal year from 2013 through 2017 for the NIDIS program within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The National Integrated Drought Information Act (P.L. 109-430) established NIDIS in 2006. NIDIS was tasked to create an effective early warning system, coordinate and integrate federal research pertaining to droughts, and build upon existing forecasting and assessment programs.
Chairman Ralph Hall (R-TX) began the hearing with a description of the current state of drought within the United States. According to the U.S. Drought Monitor run by NIDIS, over 70 percent of the nation is classified as abnormally dry, half is experiencing moderate to extreme drought, and one third is under severe to extreme drought conditions. The drought conditions are having negative impacts on corn and soybean crops. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack designated 75 percent of country farmlands as drought-stricken areas, with 88 percent of corn and 87 percent of soy crops affected. Current drought conditions are the worst since the Dust Bowl years during the 1930s and the great droughts of the 1950s. Pointing to Congressional Research Service (CRS) reports, Chairman Hall asserted that droughts are not necessarily attributable to climate change because they have been afflicting North America for thousands of years and are part of the natural climate cycle. He reviewed the goals of NIDIS to proactively manage drought risk, create a drought portal and early warning system, establish a forum for stakeholders to discuss drought related issues, and provide decision support services for drought management purposes. Chairman Hall said funding for NIDIS will expire at the end of this year if not reauthorized.
In her testimony, Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) denoted the impacts of the current drought on the Texas economy, from negative impacts on agriculture and tourism, to shortfalls in cooling water supplies for power plants and increased wildfire frequency. Although the “onset of drought is slow” and the “destruction is sprawling,” Johnson asserted that droughts need to be recognized as extreme weather events. She highlighted the need to explore the relationship between global climate change and drought frequency and severity, claiming that to ignore the potential linkage is “irrational and irresponsible.” Ranking Member Johnson concluded that she hopes to see the bipartisan support of NIDIS spread to other climate related programs.
Roger Pulwarty, director of the NIDIS program at NOAA, began the witness testimonies with an outline of the four main elements supporting NIDIS goals. One component is “Coping with Drought” research, which provides research grants to assess the impacts of drought on ecosystems, water resources, and agriculture and for development of mitigation strategies. Climate Test-bed research is done to improve climate forecasts and stream flow observations for watershed systems. The U.S. Drought Portal is a web-based tool that closes the information gap by providing credible and easily accessible data. The final element Pulwarty described is the Regional Drought Early Warning Information Systems (DEWS), which recognize regional drought variability and develop decision making strategies accordingly. Currently, DEWS is operating in the Upper Colorado River Basin, being developed throughout the state of California and the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint Basin, and is planned to expand to the Pacific Northwest, Great Plains, Carolinas, and Chesapeake Bay tributaries. Pulwarty emphasized that NIDIS relies on data coordination with other agencies, including the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Resources Conservation Service SNOwpack TELemetry (SNOTEL) sites, the Department of the Interior and United States Geological Survey (USGS) Water Census, streamflow and reservoir level data from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and Bureau of Reclamation, and the National Weather Service’s Cooperative Observer Program (COOP). Pulwarty concluded that the key to future success is creating a “sustained national system of credible, consistent, and authoritative observations.” He informed the committee that advancement of NIDIS will depend on developing an understanding of the role of precipitation in ending drought, collaboration between researchers and the public to enhance the use and value of NIDIS, the spread of monitoring tools to more regions, and the establishment of private sector partnerships.
Mayor of Indianapolis Gregory Ballard testified in regards to the severe impacts of the current drought on his district. He told the committee that weekly drought data from the U.S. Drought Portal has been used extensively by Indianapolis’s water utility, Citizens Water, to determine if advanced water conservation efforts are necessary. NIDIS helped Mayor Ballard decide to enact mandatory water restriction bans on water intensive activities, which led to water usage decreases of up to 58 million gallons per day. He emphasized the difficult economic burden of the water use restrictions on local businesses and homeowners and said the sooner Indianapolis is aware of drought conditions, the sooner the local government can inform citizens and plan water conservation strategies. Ballard said he supported the reauthorization of NIDIS to improve drought prediction tools.
In his testimony, J.D. Strong of the Oklahoma Water Resources Board discussed the challenge of coping with a “creeping disaster” such as drought. He emphasized the need to focus monitoring on state, regional, local, and tribal scales to understand when a drought begins and prevent society from falling into the common, water wasteful “hydro-illogical cycle.” Strong then described local and regional drought mitigation efforts. Since its establishment in 1957, the Oklahoma Water Resources Board has utilized 120 mesonet climate monitoring stations, real-time data on precipitation, temperature, and soil moisture, streamflow information from the USGS Cooperative Streamgaging Program, USACE reservoir data, and Landsat thermal imaging of evapotranspiration to reduce the multi-billion dollar impacts of drought. He noted that NIDIS Regional Integrated Sciences and Assessments (RISA) teams have “established a more coordinated and effective drought monitoring network.” He applauded the U.S. Drought Portal, saying it has made access to necessary drought information much easier. Strong recommended that Congress add language to the reauthorization legislation to require a firm deadline for developing early warning systems and drought prediction strategies. He concluded that NIDIS can help “save both money and lives.”
Director of Earth Systems Science at University of California-Irvine James Famiglietti told the committee that current investment in drought forecasting tools remains “far too small.” Famiglietti said the nation’s ability to monitor and predict the state of the water cycle is “well behind” because of deficiencies in hydrological modeling assets, poorly integrated water observations, and lack of a national water monitoring network. He said the ability of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) GRACE satellite and Surface Water Ocean Topography (SWOT) mission to identify areas of water stress and map changes in surface water storage is essential to improving drought management capabilities. Congressional support of NASA satellite programs, more computer simulation models, and improved knowledge of national hydrogeology, bathymetry of rivers and lakes, and stream discharge could position the U.S. as a world leader in characterizing and predicting all aspects of the water environment. Famiglietti concluded that “water is on a trajectory to rival energy in its importance.”
In her testimony, President of the Maryland Farm Bureau Patricia Langenfelder informed the committee that the current drought will impact the lives of every agricultural producer and consumer. More than 54 percent of the country’s pasture and rangeland is classified as in poor or very poor condition, with the corn crop experiencing its worst decline since the drought of 1988. She commented that dry pasture conditions are forcing many ranchers to thin cattle supplies, the effects of which will take years to reverse. Langenfelder expressed the importance of NIDIS data, which allows the USDA to make more informed adjustments to weekly crop progress reports and monthly production reports. She said she supports the reauthorization of NIDIS because it provides the nation’s farmers, ranchers, and agricultural market with effective and timely data on drought conditions and impacts.
Chairman Ralph Hall began the question and answer period by asking the panel if NIDIS provides all needed drought information and if there are areas for improvement. Mayor Ballard responded that NIDIS is a major component of city planning used by the homeland security system and emergency operations centers in his district. Strong and Langenfelder suggested NIDIS start to improve long-term drought prediction capabilities to support mitigation efforts up to a year in advance. Chairman Hall then asked about the accuracy and level of scale of NIDIS drought forecasting. NIDIS Director Pulwarty replied that the seasonal forecasts are reliable, particularly with predictions of El Nino and La Nina conditions; however, climate changes such as the Pacific Decadal Oscillation and Atlantic Decadal cycles make longer-term forecasting more difficult.
Ranking Member Johnson mentioned NOAA’s 2011 State of the Climate Report and an American Meteorological Society publication, which examines the potential linkages between climate change and extreme weather events such as drought. She expressed her disappointment in blocked investments into climate change research and said mitigation depends on understanding the contribution of climate change to drought severity and duration. Strong responded that long-term predictions of climate variability “would be great,” but NIDIS should improve short term accuracy first. Representative Johnson questioned the role of NIDIS in water planning and management. Pulwarty told her that NIDIS tries to ensure that federal and state drought plans are developed before the onset of a drought event and assimilate local drought and water data.
Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX) asked if NIDIS is receiving enough investment from the reauthorization legislation and if there were practical improvements that could made within the program. Famiglietti said NIDIS will require more funding if the program is going to improve modeling systems. The panel said enhanced forecasting, greater coverage of early warning systems, interconnected state programming, and increased education and awareness would all improve NIDIS.
Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) inquired about the possibility of integrating global climate change data into the mission of NIDIS. Famiglietti said it is essential that satellite data of floods, agriculture, and changes in surface water storage is integrated with ground observations and computer simulation models. He added that water cycle models can improve understanding of snowpack, soil moisture, streamflow, and groundwater trends and better inform water planning decisions.
Representative Andy Harris (R-MD) stated some crop prices have reached record highs, such as corn at $8 per bushel. Langenfelder added that farmers have been forced to cut back on livestock due to increased prices for feed. Representative Harris suggested that NIDIS could help predict grain prices and alleviate the adverse impacts of drought on farmers and consumers.
Representative Jerry McNerney (D-CA) asked how the United States could become a world leader in water management. Famiglietti said this would require Congressional support of NASA, NOAA, and the National Science Foundation research efforts, development of a national water model for streamflow and water availability observations, organization of public-private partnerships, and establishment of a reliable budget for NASA satellite programs.
Representative Dan Benishek (R-MI) questioned the accessibility of NIDIS data by farmers and ranchers. Langenfelder responded that most farmers are up to date with the latest technology and stay informed through the online drought portal and agricultural reports. Pulwarty added that NIDIS has programs in place to help communities become familiar with drought information services and create “drought ready communities.”
Representative Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) described the reductions to USDA cooperative extension services in the FY 2013 budget proposal, which would significantly impact specialty crop communities in Oregon that rely on extension services for information. Pulwarty said NIDIS could help remediate this impact by providing essential data to agricultural communities through the Department of Interior’s regional Climate Center based out of Oregon State University.
In response to Representative Paul Tonko’s (D-NY) question on adaptation strategies, Strong described adaptation as a function of regional climate centers that hinge on the accuracy of data and potential climate scenarios. Pulwarty added that the major role of the eleven regional DEWS is to increase capabilities for drought preparation. Representative Tonko then asked about the status of the USGS streamgage networks. Famiglietti said streamgages are essential to collection of water data and that USGS programs are “invaluable and could use your help.” Strong and Pulwarty emphasized that consistent funding of USGS and NASA programs is essential because NIDIS relies on local monitoring and observational data from other agencies.
Representative Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) said the nation should rely more on “hard data” and less on computer models. He mentioned the water resource problems occurring in California and the need to have established water alternatives such as desalination.
Representative Lynn Woolsey (D-CA) commented that “we are fooling around with mother nature.” She concluded the questioning period by asking how forecasting and monitoring can be utilized to prevent droughts. Panelists responded that the integrated network of data compiled through NIDIS can help raise awareness in communities about water availability and the threat of drought, and encourage people to be proactive about conserving water.
For opening statements, witness testimonies, and an archived webcast of the hearing, visit the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee web site.
Investigations and Oversight Subcommittee Members Present:
Energy and Environment Subcommittee Members Present:
Full Committee Members Present:
*serves on both subcommittees
On June 27, 2012, the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology Subcommittees on Investigations and Oversight and Energy and Environment held a joint hearing to receive an update on the progress of the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) and the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite-R Series (GOES-R). The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) jointly operate the two national weather satellite programs to provide the United States with accurate and reliable weather forecasting capabilities. The progress of the Suomi National Polar-orbiting Project (NPP), a preliminary test program for JPSS, was discussed to assess its capabilities to acquire a wide range of land, ocean, and atmospheric measurements, prepare for future weather forecasting operational requirements, and create a U.S. climate monitoring system. Suomi NPP is critical to the development of the next generation satellite system.
In his opening statement, Investigations and Oversight Subcommittee Chairman Paul Broun (R-GA) recounted the many past hearings held on JPSS and GOES systems and said the “level of oversight is indicative of how important weather satellites are to our society.” He described the shortfalls of the original National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS) that was supposed to consist of six satellites carrying thirteen instruments, operate in three orbits, and cost $6.5 billion, but became a program with only three satellites, operating in one orbit, at twice the cost. Chairman Broun said he was frustrated that NOAA lacks a baseline for the cost and schedule of the satellite program. The Office of Management and Budget has established a $12.9 billion cost cap for development and operation of JPSS through 2028 and a $10.9 billion life cycle cost cap for GOES-R. Broun commented that the JPSS cost cap is $1.7 billion lower than NOAA’s cost estimates for the program and he is curious how NOAA plans to cover this shortfall without diminishing satellite capability. NOAA will only operate the JPSS afternoon orbit and Broun described the potential for a data gap if there is little coordination between NOAA, the Department of Defense’s Defense Weather Satellite System’s early morning orbit coverage, and the Europeans’ midmorning orbit coverage. GOES-R is making significant progress but requires additional monitoring to track the use of reserves and uphold the schedule. Broun concluded by questioning the impacts of transferring the weather satellite programs from NOAA to NASA, as proposed by the Senate Appropriations Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies subcommittee bill (S. 2323).
Investigations and Oversight Ranking Member Paul Tonko (D-NY) stated that the JPSS “cycles of disaster” should be brought “under control.” He said the GOES-R and JPSS programs need to be assessed and receive support to get the programs effectively launched and operated. Despite the past failures, Tonko emphasized, “Satellites and instruments are too important to our nation to abandon these programs.” He said he hoped to hear about NOAA’s and NASA’s plans to fill data gaps, the remaining risks of each satellite and strategies to address the risks, and a reaffirmed confidence in the management teams for the JPSS and GOES-R satellite programs.
Energy and Environment Subcommittee Chairman Andy Harris (R-MD) stated that he hopes to see improvement but with “every step forward, it seems we are taking two steps back.” He noted that the launch of the Suomi NPP was five years late, data gaps remain, and the cost of the program has increased by $1 billion. Harris commented that GOES-R is moving forward, however NOAA “is burning through its funding reserves.” Harris concluded that the current procurement process for weather forecasting is “simply not working.”
In his testimony Brad Miller (D-NC), Energy and Environment Subcommittee ranking member, emphasized the influence of satellite-based weather forecasts on daily functions such as determining where to fly airplanes, when to rotate crops rotation, how to plan military missions, when to run power plants, and how to prepare for dangerous storms. Miller stated that poor management and wasteful spending threatens forecast capabilities and could create economic and health risks. He called for evaluation of necessary funding levels and reserves required to keep costs low and the project on time. Miller concluded that keeping the projects on track are essential to keep Americans safe and the economy efficient and productive.
In her testimony, Deputy Administrator of NOAA Kathryn Sullivan told the committee that significant progress has been made with the JPSS and GOES-R satellites. The GOES-R is on target to meet the fiscal year (FY) 2016 launch date and the Suomi NPP was successfully launched in October 2011. Sullivan stated that NOAA’s priority to maintain and improve the weather warning systems the U.S. depends upon requires strong management, stable baseline requirements, and reliable funding. She highlighted several success stories such as geostationary satellite monitoring of Tropical Storm Debbie and the use of the Suomi NPP Cross-Track Infrared Sounder (CrIS) instrument to track wildfires in Colorado and Wyoming. Sullivan informed the committee that independent review teams are analyzing life cycle costs for the satellite programs to have a full, detailed baseline cost and schedule available July 2013. She emphasized that the satellites “on track and headed for success” because of the development of strategies to leverage existing capabilities and the commitment of all involved parties.
Marcus Watkins, NASA Director of the Joint Agency Satellite Division, told the committee that JPSS and GOES-R are critical to climate monitoring, research activities, and weather forecasting systems. He stated that NASA and NOAA have been “strengthening their working relationship” over the last 40 years and since then have established joint program management councils to oversee JPSS. Watkins described NASA’s role as an acquisition agent for NOAA. The agency manages all of the JPSS instrument, spacecraft, and ground system contracts. Following the first Systems Requirements Review (SRR) in May 2012, development of JPSS-1, the upgraded copy of Suomi NPP, has continued full force and the satellite is anticipated to launch in FY2017. Watkins said the Critical Design Review has been completed and the GOES-R Series Flight Project has tasked the United Launch Alliance to use the Atlas V series of launch vehicles to place GOES-R in orbit. He continued that all the flight instruments are in flight fabrication, integration, or test phase. Watkins concluded that NASA and NOAA are committed to ensuring that weather and environmental requirements for the nation are met on “the most efficient and predictable schedule without reducing system capabilities or further increasing risk.”
Director David Powner of Information Technology Management Issues for the Government Accountability Office (GAO) testified on the progress and the remaining weaknesses of the JPSS and GOES-R programs. He stated that the NPP demonstration satellite has seen solid development of all five sensors, with five 60 percent complete and two 85 percent complete. Powner outlined three areas for further oversight of the programs including how NOAA plans to operate under a $12.9 billion spending cap, increasing transparency of NOAA’s use of reserve funds, and evaluating how the polar satellite constellation will be managed. He commented that cost increases for the sensors, spacecraft, and ground components of the GOES-R satellites have been managed through the use of 30 percent of NOAA’s reserves and the GAO schedule risk analysis found only a 48 percent confidence level that the program would meet its current launch readiness date of October 2015. Powner concluded that it is essential for NOAA to identify mitigation options for the potential satellite data gaps in order to efficiently leverage alternative satellite data sources and ensure reliable forecasting for U.S. citizens and property, military operations, and commerce.
Full Committee Chairman Ralph Hall (R-TX) began the question and answer period by asking if the Senate proposal to transfer weather satellite operations from NOAA to NASA would result in cost savings, streamline management, improve efficiency, or increase the overall likelihood of the program’s success. Both Watkins and Sullivan replied that the agencies are in ongoing discussions with the administration to assess the proposal. Watkins added that NASA wants to assure that the agencies can maintain overall schedules and launch critical space assets as soon as possible and Sullivan commented that NOAA wants to maximize the continuity of satellite data.
Ranking Member Tonko stated “the odds are high” that there will be a data gap between the end of the productive life of Suomi NPP and the time when JPSS-1 is launched. He asked Sullivan if NOAA has a plan to cope with the data gap and if anyone has been assigned to evaluate the independent data sources. Sullivan responded that NOAA is renewing written and confirmed commitments with international partners, evaluating the technical characteristics of outside data streams, such as the Department of Defense Microwave Image Sounder, and making the necessary technical modifications to accommodate them. She said Mary Kicza, Administrator for Satellite and Information Services at NOAA, has oversight of these management projects. Powner added that it is critical for NOAA and NASA to remain on schedule to prevent the data gap; however he is confident that the agencies are in a “better position” then in the past because of the strong program management.
Chairman Andy Harris (R-MD) of the Energy and Environment subcommittee mentioned a blog publication by University of Washington Professor Cliff Mass on applying the NASA SpaceX privatization principles to weather satellites. Harris asked what NOAA’s philosophy is on moving toward an alternative private model. Sullivan told Harris that “innovative ideas deserve careful exploration” and that in some cases NOAA uses private proposals and data as substitute information. She concluded that NOAA has not received any proposals similar to the SpaceX model. Harris than asked if NOAA could incorporate independent experts into more Observing System Simulation Experiments (OSSEs) to evaluate potential losses and gap mitigation strategies. Sullivan said NOAA would like to but currently does not have the “manpower or high performance computing systems” necessary to conduct OSSEs. Representative Harris questioned how NOAA plans to cover the entire polar orbiting constellation and mitigate the potential data gap. Sullivan informed him that that NOAA’s National Earth Observations Task Force is working to collaborate with other federal agencies and the defense department to ensure a reliable data stream. Harris asked how NOAA prioritizes satellite climate sensors, ground based reception centers, and the Navy data processing centers when determining where to cut for the funding cap. Sullivan replied that NOAA has decreased the coverage of the ground reception network. Although a decrease in ground stations increases the time delay for JPSS data transfers from 30 minutes to 80 minutes, the JPSS system remains an improvement from the current performance of data transfer at 120 minutes.
Miller asked the panel if JPSS and GOES-R are on track and if there are potential areas for mistakes. Powner responded that there could be challenges with operating under the $12.9 billion funding cap. Sullivan commented she had “strong confidence” that NOAA could operate under the $12.9 billion cap by capitalizing on the Suomi NPP experience and modifying the ground systems. Because NASA and NOAA developed the satellite instrumentation early on in the process, Watkins concluded that the instruments should be completed on time.
Representative Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) asked for a total value of the monetary loss from the NPOESS program. Watkins responded that $4.3 billion was spent on the disbanded project, however many instruments and the ground system for Suomi NPP mission were developed. Rohrabacher mentioned the Senate proposal to transfer authority for procuring satellite equipment to NASA and commented that it would make more sense to have NASA focus on space exploration and NOAA maintain weather satellite authority.
Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) asked the panel how a continuing resolution made during the appropriation process would affect the weather satellite programs. Sullivan said a continuing resolution would compromise the plan for FY 2013 appropriations for purchase of a launch vehicle for the GOES-R launch and the program budget is supposed to increase by $803 million in FY 2016. Both Watkins and Sullivan commented that a lack of funding would severely compromise the mission schedule for GOES-R, but it would have less of an impact on JPSS. Lofgren suggested that NOAA and NASA conduct rigorous economic analyses for the cost impacts associated with severe weather to demonstrate the importance of satellite weather forecasting.
Representative Steven Palazzo (R-MS) stated that NASA has its “hands full” with space exploration projects and asked if transferring authority for space satellites from NOAA to NASA would result in additional cost overruns. Watkins said NASA is in the process of evaluating the financial effects the switch would have. Because NASA currently serves only as an acquisition agent, the agency does not contribute any of its allocated funding to the satellite programs.
Mentioning his background as a mathematician, Representative Jerry McNerney (D-CA) asked the panel if mathematical modeling could be used as a substitute if a satellite data gap were to occur. Sullivan responded that NOAA is exploring the potential for models to lessen the impact of impaired forecasting capabilities. McNerney asked Powner if meeting the 2015 GOES-R satellite launch date is the biggest challenge for the program and if he had recommendations for NASA and NOAA to remain on schedule. In order to increase the level of confidence for the 2015 launch date, Powner suggested NOAA and NASA need to conduct a more complete assessment of the satellite schedule that includes subcontractor activities. Watkins commented that the largest risk to meeting the launch date is whether or not the program receives reliable funding. McNerney concluded by questioning the performance of the Suomi NPP test satellite. Watkins and Sullivan affirmed that the satellite instrumentation is operating well, the calibration period is on schedule, and the ground reception system is functioning as planned.
Witness testimonies, opening statements of the majority party, and a webcast of the hearing can be found on the House Science Committee’s majority web site. Minority party opening statements can be accessed here.
Subcommittee Members Present:
Committee Members Present:
On March 28, 2012 the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology Subcommittee on Energy and Environment held a hearing to discuss how the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) procures data for weather forecasting.
Chairman of the Subcommittee Andy Harris (R-MD) opened by disapproving of the proposed budget for NOAA’s satellite programs. NOAA’s satellites program provides the nation with crucial weather data for weather forecasting. He referred to the satellites program as being “fraught with a long history of major problems” and accused NOAA of “placing nearly all its eggs in one basket.” Harris exclaimed that nearly 40 percent of the $5.1 billion NOAA budget is dedicated to satellite programs. He said this has forced NOAA to eliminate or reduce programs essential to protecting lives and property like the tsunami buoy network. Harris emphasized the necessity of this hearing to assure Congress that “our data procurement is based on costs and benefits, rather than subjective thinking.” Harris called for NOAA to reevaluate the necessity and funding of their observing systems when he said, “NOAA needs to undertake comprehensive, objective, and quantitative evaluations of observing systems that incorporates cost.”
Ranking Member of the Subcommittee Brad Miller (D-NC) expressed concern in his opening statement over the continued cost overruns and delayed launch schedules of NOAA’s satellite programs. However, Miller acknowledged the importance of satellites when he said, “Yes, satellites are expensive, but they are essential to protecting life and property, and the costs of inferior systems could be far greater.” Miller said strategic decisions need to be made “while considering their cost and realistic lead-time for their development.” Miller expressed his concern that a gap in weather data would hinder the nation’s forecasting ability and the subsequent health of the American people. A gap in weather data is expected between the end of the life span of the National Polar-Orbiting Partnership (NPP) in early 2016 and the launch of the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) satellite in late 2016. If the JPSS is not up before the NPP goes off line than the U.S. will have a period of time where it is receiving no remotely sensed weather data.
One opening testimony representing the three NOAA witnesses on the first panel was given by Mary Kicza NOAA’s Assistant Administrator for Satellite and Information Services. Kicza stated that NOAA’s mission of providing science, service, and stewardship to the nation is fundamentally dependent on data from environmental observations. Kicza proclaimed that NOAA’s environmental observations come from both earth-based in-situ platforms and remotely-sensed data from satellites. She made it clear that the NOAA Observing Systems Council (NOSC) determines the most cost effective means of acquiring the data from the environmental observations. Kicza reported that the NOSC process involves a disciplined and effective process of documenting, validating, and assessing the priorities of the observing requirements. She asserted that NOAA regularly evaluates new observing capabilities that help to reduce cost. Kicza closed by assuring that NOAA is using a range of tools within its means to guide its investment decisions.
Harris asked the panel to comment on this potential gap in weather data that the U.S. could be facing. Kicza began by clarifying that the concern is not so much over the lapse in the physical amount of time that the satellites will be in orbit as it is over the inability of the instruments on the two satellites to cross calibrate while they are both in functioning orbit. She said the calibration of these instruments varies from instrument to instrument with some taking six months and others taking a year or longer. Consequently, if NPP goes offline before JPSS goes online than JPSS will have to be calibrated with instruments on the ground. This would create a large gap in data, but Kicza said there are already agreements in place with European counterparts to make up for this data gap. Harris asked John Murphy, Chief of the Programs and Plans Division of NOAA’s National Weather Service (NWS), if satellites are more effective than in situ platforms at severe weather forecasting. Murphy responded that satellites provide most of the forecast model input which helps predict the longer range 2-5 day severe weather predictions, while the in situ platforms are responsible for the severe weather warnings.
Miller asked Kicza to comment on the relationship between the data collecting capabilities of satellites and the data collected capabilities of the in situ observing platforms. She responded that the two work in concert with each other, but she stated that 94 percent of the data used in weather forecasting comes from satellites while 6 percent comes from the in situ platforms. Murphy added that the in situ platforms play a key role in tornado forecasting.
Eric Webster, Vice President and Director of Weather Systems at ITT Exelis, began the second portion of the hearing by presenting his opening statement. Webster told the subcommittee that ITT Exelis has been responsible for building every imager and sounder instrument used on NOAA’s polar satellite programs including NPP and JPSS. Webster stated that NOAA and NASA must find ways to reduce the overall systems cost of the instruments on these satellites because it is affecting their overall sustainability. He encouraged NOAA to look to incorporate commercial capabilities to improve future weather forecasting.
David Crane Chief Executive Officer of GeoMetWatch opened by stating that the fiscal and programmatic challenges faced by NOAA present an opportunity for the implementation of commercial alternatives. He believes that integrating the commercial industry will help to provide the more valuable solutions to weather forecasting. Crane encouraged the subcommittee to take legislative action to clarify the authorities of NOAA, NOAA’s ability to acquire meteorological data, and confirm the critical role of the commercial sector in improving severe weather forecasting.
In his opening statement Bruce Lev, Vice Chairman of AirDat, LLC, touched on the importance of weather forecasting in saving lives, reducing injury, and saving the federal government billions of dollars. Lev emphasized the necessity of accurate data in creating reliable forecasts. Lev said that AirDat has developed the Tropospheric Airborne Meteorological Data Reporting (TAMDAR) which is a multi-function sensor that collects data from a large area. He said that TAMDAR is fully operational and that if implemented by NOAA it will improve weather forecasting at a much cheaper cost than traditional weather balloons.
Berrien Moore, Director of the National Weather Center at the University of Oklahoma College of Atmospheric and Geographic Sciences, opened by calling for the increased use of local surface data (Mesonet) observations in severe weather forecasting. He said that in 1990, $3 million in funding from the state of Oklahoma contributed to the creation of 120 weather observation stations that transmit data every five minutes. He believes the incorporation of a national Mesonet system similar to Oklahoma’s combined with data from the National Weather Service would create a “powerful partnership.” He called this partnership an “ideal” model in these tough fiscal times.
Harris questioned Webster on why he believes fixed price procurement contracts for NOAA satellite instruments would be more effective than the current system. Webster said that fixed price contracts are set by the contractor, which would allow the contractor to build the instrument in the most cost effective way. He said this ends up costing the government less because the cost of the risk associated with this project is taken on by the contracted company. He believes these fixed price contracts are the most effective with technologies that already been developed. Companies would be less likely to take on a developmental fixed price contract because of the associated risk in attempting to develop a technology that has not already been proven.
Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD) asked Lev to comment on the degree to which TAMDAR would improve National Weather Service forecasting. Lev said a joint study by NOAA and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) found that TAMDAR improved the reliability and accuracy of weather forecasts by up to 50 percent. He said that further improvements in TAMDAR technology have increased the reliability and accuracy of forecasts to over 50 percent.
Opening statements, witness testimony, and a web cast of the hearing can be found on the Committee web page.
Subcommittee Members Present
On November 16, 2011, the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard held a hearing to discuss the need for continued innovation in weather forecasting and prediction. A record-high number of natural disasters in the U.S. occurred in 2011, thus improved technology for weather forecasting and mitigation is of the utmost importance. The National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS), jointly operated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and the Department of Defense (DOD), was designed as a means for cost savings by combining military and civil remote-sensing efforts. Cost-savings were not achieved, and in 2010 the White House Office of Science and Technology dismantled NPOESS and replaced it with the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS), managed by NOAA and NASA, and the Defense Weather Satellite System. Although the NPOESS Preparatory Program (NPP) was designed to bridge the gaps between the two systems, NOAA is aware of a potential “data gap” in 2016 due to technological setbacks transitioning NPOESS to JPSS.
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) produced a report that examined NOAA’s current satellite programs and its efforts to improve its technological innovation and prevent such a data gap. On November 17, 2011, the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act for 2012 (P.L. 112-55) was passed into law, funding $924 million for NOAA's JPSS
Chairman Mark Begich (D-AK) opened the hearing by providing a brief recap of a very intense storm that devastated the Alaskan coast on November 9, and praised NOAA’s weather forecasting information for mitigating the harmful effects on Alaskans. He heralded NOAA’s weather service as a “critical program” that improves the lives of all Americans and stressed the need for reliable weather information. After highlighting his negative views on the last administration’s funding priorities for weather technology, he said he wants to make sure this administration is “a better steward of taxpayer funding.”
Ranking Member Olympia Snowe (R-ME) introduced the importance of the Gulf of Maine Ocean Observing System to her state and provided a background on the current transition of satellite systems. She argued it is “crucial to preserve the continuity” of weather information between the two systems and referenced GAO’s report that stated there is a “lack of interagency strategy for environmental observation between NOAA, NASA, and DOD.” Snowe praised the innovation of the private sector to ensure data continuity and stressed that weather infrastructure must be a national priority.
Mary Glackin of NOAA told the committee that there is “much to be done” to spur innovation within NOAA. Specifically she mentioned the need for improved weather radar, including precipitation data, and flood and thunderstorm warnings, as well as consolidating their polar satellites. According to Glackin, NOAA is working diligently with other federal agencies, weather organizations in the private sector, academic institutions, and state and local governments. She mentioned a new method of combining technology with social science advancements to create a more “weather-ready nation.” Glackin said there is “a nearly 100 percent chance” of the long-term data gap in 2016 occurring.
Todd Zinser, Inspector General of the Department of Commerce read from his testimony three oversight observations from the recent audit report of JPSS, which examined the adequacy of the JPSS development. First, he noted that JPSS is a “critically important program… that must overcome years of setbacks from its NPOESS predecessor.” While NPOESS was originally created to reduce duplication and overlaps between NOAA, NASA, and DOD, it was unsuccessful in its efforts due to cost overruns. Second, he noted two challenges ahead for JPSS: a potential short term data gap in eighteen months as the NOAA-19 satellite transitions to NPP, and a likely long term data gap in 2016 when NPP reaches the end of its life and JPSS-1 begins operation. Finally, Zinser told the committee that NOAA’s senior officials need to make sure there is no “additional slippage” in their schedule by creating a program baseline and coordinating across agencies more efficiently.
David Trimble of GAO briefly described the importance of climate change adaptation and recognition, more site-specific weather data, and collaboration between various organizations. Rear Admiral Cari Thomas of the U.S. Coast Guard told the committee that NOAA and the Coast Guard have a successful and beneficial partnership, citing two specific examples of their collaboration that saved lives.
During the question and answer period of the first panel, Chairman Begich asked Glackin what steps NOAA is taking to prepare for the likely data gap in 2016. She responded that NOAA is strengthening its international partnerships and using all available data both on-ground and from satellites. Begich asked Zinser if NOAA is prepared to fill that gap “if funding is flat.” It will “obviously be more difficult,” Zinser replied, but he suggested NOAA put its satellite data into a “larger formula” database so that all agencies can contribute to the effort. This was a suggestion from the Office of Inspector General’s audit report that NOAA is not currently implementing. Begich encouraged Glackin that NOAA should develop a report for Congress to stress the importance of satellite data. Ranking Member Snowe asked Zinser if funding is an issue for the short and long term data gaps. He replied that it is much more of an issue for the long-term 2016 data gap, which has an 80 percent likelihood. A short-term gap “may not even exist” according to Zinser, if NOAA takes the necessary actions to prevent it. Regarding search-and-rescue (SAR) data, Snowe asked Rear Admiral Thomas if the lack of an SAR sensor on JPSS-1 will negatively affect the Coast Guard’s efforts. Thomas replied that they can get similar SAR satellite data from other sources until it becomes available in the JPSS-2.
John Boozman (R-AR) and Begich asked Glackin if NOAA is working diligently with other federal agencies. She replied that NOAA is partnering with the U.S. Navy, the U.S. Air Force, NASA, and the Department of Energy (DOE), but using its own “high performance resources.” Regarding the lifetime of NPP, Boozman asked Zinser for clarification on its lifetime. Because NPP was designed as a “contingency satellite,” Zinser explained, it was not designed with NASA standards and may not perform its functions for more than three years. However, the satellite has a normal life expectancy is five years and has enough fuel to power it for seven years.
Tom Iseman of the Western Governor’s Association (WGA) began the second panel by providing some information about WGA and its interest in weather-related disasters in the western states, such as floods, droughts, and coastal disasters. He told the committee that WGA has created a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with NOAA to target “disaster risk reduction” for the western states. He encouraged the collaboration of NOAA with state governments and the private sector. Peter Neilley of the Weather Channel Companies (WCC) presented some compelling statistics about weather services during his testimony. According to WCC, 40 percent of the nation’s economy is “sensitive to weather,” and there have been fourteen $1 billion weather disasters so far in 2011 in the U.S. Regarding the importance of funding for weather services, he noted that the $5 billion spent this year on weather data has prevented $30 billion that would have been spent on weather-related losses. Neilley stressed that the private sector should “strategically be relied upon” by NOAA to develop next-generation weather services and foundational datasets. Robert Marshall of Earth Networks told the committee about the 2008 National Academy of Sciences report, Observing Weather and Climate from the Ground Up: A Nationwide Network of Networks, that recommended NOAA take advantage of its mesonet program and incorporate it into the National Weather Service. Marshall argued that six lives “quite possibly” could have been saved during the Indianapolis State Fair tragedy in August 2011, when a severe thunderstorm caused a stage collapse, had NOAA implemented this program. He argued for mesonets to be fully funded and completed. Marshall described a new innovative Total Lightning technology that provides more lead times before disasters without significant costs. Like the two witnesses before him, Marshall stressed the need for NOAA to embrace public-private partnerships to utilize new cost-effective technologies.
During the second question and answer period, Begich asked Iseman if NOAA has the capacity to function at the regional level. Iseman said NOAA does have that capacity, and it can be seen in the MOU partnership with WGA, the National Integrated Drought Information System, and NOAA’s regional integrated science and assessments. Neilley told the senator that NOAA needs to develop a system to filter out its “tremendous” amount of information so that the appropriate data can reach the public and the remaining, equally-important data can be organized. When asked to elaborate by Snowe, Neilley added that NOAA currently does not have a method of communication to filter through all the information that is processed by its supercomputers. Filtering the data, Neilley said, can enhance the frequency and accuracy of daily weather data. Snowe inquired about NOAA’s reaction to the report that recommended the use of the nation’s mesonet networks. Marshall said NOAA was responsive to the report, but he is disappointed that the networks have not been mentioned in the President’s budget request. He reiterated that creating a national mesonet would be relatively “very, very” cheap compared to the billions of dollars spent on weather satellites and would significantly benefit weather data organization and acquisition.
Witness testimonies and a webcast of the hearing can be found on the committee web site.
Subcommittee Members Present
Full Committee Member Present
On November 15, 2011, the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics held a hearing to receive testimony from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) on the prospects for future exploration of Mars and implications of the current fiscal crisis to the future of U.S. planetary science. NASA is scheduled to launch on November 25, 2011 the Mars Space Laboratory (MSL), a medium-sized rover that will conduct a number of geological, atmospheric, and chemical tests on the surface of the planet, and has follow-up Mars missions set for 2016 and 2018 planned jointly with the European Space Administration (ESA). The uncertainty of budget discussion between the administration and NASA for fiscal year 2013, however, has caused worry that the future Mars missions will not be accomplished. ESA might look instead to Russia for collaboration if NASA's future planetary missions remain uncertain. The NAS's most recent planetary decadal survey, Visions and Voyages for Planetary Science in the Decade 2013-2022, released in the spring of 2011, has made a number of budgetary recommendations to NASA and laid out a robust program with relative priorities for the agency’s top flagship space missions. A representative from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) was invited to testify at the hearing but declined to attend.
Chairman Stephen Palazzo (R-MS) discussed the necessity to “maintain a vital national space program” in his opening statement. He told the committee that the decadal report selected a Mars sample-caching mission as its top priority, the first of a three-step mission to collect soil samples from Mars and support the science for future missions. The chairman described the partnership with ESA as a result of the costliness of the top priority missions. He expressed worry that if “these internal conflicts aren’t soon resolved,” NASA may not be a reliable international partner.
Ranking Member Donna Edwards (D-MD) told the committee that the U.S. is the “undisputed leader” in space exploration and the nation’s Mars program is “the envy of the world.” She worries that the U.S. may not continue to be the leader in space if the internal budget issues are not sorted out. She said NASA needs to locate $1.2 billion in its budget in order to keep the construction of the James Webb Space Telescope on target. Edwards asked the panel if NASA has a credible plan for its Mars program, what is preventing it from going forward, and what is needed from Congress to move things along.
During the question and answer period, Palazzo asked Squyres what dangers the U.S. would face if NASA loses its capability to run flagship programs due to a lack of funding and support from the administration. He responded that there would be a “severe” danger to planetary science in the U.S.because the nation would completely lose those programs and there would be no prospects for doing similar science in the future. When asked why NASA is not implementing the flagship mission priorities, Squyres replied, “I’m perplexed.” He added that NASA has totally restructured its budget and revamped its designs with ESA since the survey release, but there is not yet a “commitment being made” by the administration to move this forward. Green pointed out that OMB has not yet notified NASA of any plans to cancel the Mars 2016 and 2018 missions. “We are eagerly awaiting the results from OMB,” said Green, referring to the budget priorities. Lamar Smith (R-TX) asked Squyres if he thought the administration’s priorities are the same as the general science community’s priorities. He replied that the priorities differ in that, though NASA has worked “heroically” to lower budget profiles, there is still an unwillingness within the administration to commit to the flagship missions.
Edwards asked Green if OMB reviewed and approved his testimony, to which he replied that they had. She requested that Green respond to Squyres’ statement that NASA is not dedicated to the partnership mission with ESA. He replied that their approach is to “continue in good faith” until OMB gives them more information. He stressed that NASA and ESA want to complete their mission. In response to a question from Marcia Fudge (D-OH) about NASA’s mission prioritization options, Green replied that ESA is “an outstanding partner,” and the reason NASA is currently able to prioritize its missions. Palazzo wondered if Squyres had noticed any “growing unwillingness” from international agencies like ESA during their dialogue regarding the partnership. Although he has sensed some frustration, he said the majority of their discussion has been very enthusiastic.
Smith asked the panel if they think NASA will find "microlife" on either Mars or Europa. Squyres said, “I simply don’t know,” to which Green agreed. Mo Brooks (R-AL) brought up the low plutonium-238 supplies for space program missions, asking Green which missions will be in jeopardy without additional fuel production. Green listed NASA’s Discovery Mission, the Mars Science Lab, the Mars 2018 mission, and the New Frontiers program. He noted that no new facilities have been developed to produce plutonium, but NASA is aware of the need to begin production within “the next several years” because of the long lead-time needed to produce plutonium-238. Brooks asked about the start-up costs of plutonium production, to which Green estimated costs of between $70 to $90 million. Sandy Adams (R-FL) wondered if the Mars sample collection mission is crucial for the future of human missions. Green said that NASA will not be able to send humans to Mars without first obtaining the soil samples. Squyres added that if the U.S. is not able to accomplish its soil collection missions, “cutting-edge science” in the U.S. would suffer and the nation would be “poorly positioned” to plan future missions.
Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) pointed out that the original budget for the James Webb Space Telescope was $1.6 billion, whereas it is now $8.8 billion. He argued that these “huge cost overruns” have forced NASA to collaborate with ESA, when we should be able to accomplish our missions independently.
Subcommittee Members Present
Full Committee Members Present
As part of STS-135, the last mission of the Space Shuttle Program in July 2011, the orbiter Atlantis delivered supplies to provision the ISS through 2012. At the time, the station housed a maximum crew of six researchers. Since the American shuttles were decommissioned and before the private sector can demonstrate its ability to safely travel to and from low Earth orbit (LEO), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is relying on the Russian Soyuz vehicles, managed by the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos), to transport crew and cargo to the ISS. On August 24, a Russian unmanned cargo vehicle transporting supplies to the ISS crashed during launch in Kazakhstan. According to the Russian commission tasked with finding the anomaly that led to the crash, the Soyuz-U third stage booster in the vehicle shut down before reaching orbital velocity. This booster is very similar to the Soyuz-FG booster used to carry crew into LEO. After the crash, Roscosmos delayed all further planned launches until the commission had completed its failure investigation, all international partners had reviewed the report, and all stakeholders had agreed on a return-to-flight plan. NASA and the Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel (ASAP) have reviewed the Russian commission’s report and believe it to be accurate and forthcoming.
Roscosmos and NASA are moving quickly to reassure the community of the safety and reliability of the Soyuz rockets. Though the researchers aboard ISS are not in danger of running out of supplies, their “lifeboats,” Soyuz capsules docked to the station, have a usability limit of 200 days.
In his opening statement, Chairman Steven Palazzo (R-MS) noted how important it is for the future of the ISS to remedy this issue. He said the ISS “has a finite lifetime” and it is “imperative that we take advantage of its many capabilities.” Acting Ranking Member Jerry Costello (D-IL) acknowledged the crewmembers of STS-135 and raised concerns over NASA’s lack of participation in the Russian accident investigation commission.
William Gerstenmaier, Associate Administrator of the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate, assured the committee in his testimony that the Russian commission’s findings were correct. He described the anomaly as a contamination either in the fuel lines or stabilizer valve causing low fuel supply to the generator. An independent NASA panel reviewed the findings and briefed NASA officials the day of the hearing. Gerstenmaier affirmed that NASA’s onboard crew is in no immediate danger and that they continue to do “quality research…every day” on the ISS. Though there would be maintenance concerns if the ISS were to be decrewed, Gerstenmaier said research, spanning multiple disciplines including geophysics and remote sensing, would be the primary loss. Retired General Thomas Stafford, chairman of the ISS Advisory Committee, reminded the committee in his testimony that he worked directly with the Soviets on the early stages of the Soyuz project and was very familiar with the technology. He announced that if the upcoming unmanned Soyuz-U launch is successful, the next crew will travel to the ISS “on or about” November 13 and the ISS will return to a six person crew on December 26. Retired Vice Admiral Joseph Dyer noted that while ASAP had only had second-hand contact with the Russian accident investigation of Roscosmos, they view the avialable information to be credible and of “high fidelity.” If there were a long-term disruption in Soyuz transport capability, however, ASAP found there would be risk to the public of an unplanned and unmanned ISS deorbit and the station could be lost. He further discussed the challenges ahead for ASAP as more commercial spacecraft begin to operate in LEO.
Chairman Palazzo asked the witnesses to describe their contact with Roscosmos and the accident investigation panel. Gerstenmaier told the chairman that he had been to Russia to meet with officials who briefed him on their conclusions and why other possibilities were rejected. He said the United States has the ability to ask them to do additional tests and investigations. Costello asked whether ASAP or an independent panel should directly review the Russian findings and asked what safety and regulatory problems will need to be resolved before commercial spacecraft begin to operate. The witnesses reiterated that they found the investigation to be credible and agreed that there will need to be a lot of issues settled before the private sector begins to transport crew and cargo to the ISS. Full Committee Chairman Ralph Hall (R-TX) asked whether ramping up the Soyuz flight rate has put too much pressure on Roscosmos. Gerstenmaier said that it probably has and that NASA is watching this issue. Representative Sandy Adams (R-FL) discussed the United States’ reliance on Russian launch capabilities and asked about delays in commercial rocket launch systems. Gerstenmaier said delays are typical of any startup. Representative Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) asked about the status of the United States’ next generation heavy-lift spacecraft Space Launch System. Gerstenmaier told Rohrabacher that the target date for its first test launch, though heavily dependent on budget, is December 2017 with a crew mission in 2021. Rohrabacher pointed out how the Russians were acting in good faith with NASA because they could charge whatever they wanted for their services. He asked whether U.S. commercial launch systems would be in competition with Roscosmos’s services to which the witnesses said there would continue to be a need for both. After questioning the witnesses, Rohrabacher wondered whether funding opportunities in “outer outer space” would take away from critical LEO projects like clearing out space debris. Donna Edwards (D-MD) asked what the capacity to gain documentation from commercial space companies will be if an anomaly or accident occurred. Dyer said that transparency will be critical and that ASAP is very focused on this issue. Lamar Smith (R-TX) asked about the likelihood of returning the recently retired shuttles into service. Though Stafford responded it would take about two years, the witnesses agreed that this is highly unlikely. Smith asked whether NASA has a long-term strategy to prevent a brain drain. Gerstenmaier said that it is a concern and a worry but that a “constancy of purpose” would help. Dyer, who also acts as Chief Operating Officer at iRobot Corporation, remarked that his industry is having “tremendous success” in finding students to work in robotics.
Opening statements, witness testimonies, and a webcast of the hearing can be found on the committee web site.
Committee Members Present
Non-committee Members Present
The House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology received testimony from National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Administrator Charles F. Bolden on July 12, 2011. The original intent of the hearing was to discuss details on NASA’s plan for a heavy-lift launch system for deep-space exploration. However, on July 7, 2011 NASA officials announced that the plan would not be ready until late summer. Under the NASA Authorization Act of 2010 (P.L. 111-267), it was to be completed by mid-January 2011.
Committee Chairman Ralph Hall (R-TX) began the hearing with an opening statement criticizing NASA and the Obama administration. The six-month delay in presenting the plan, he said, “represents almost an insult to this committee and this Congress,” adding that it “reflects poorly on the administration and its space program.” Hall noted that NASA has struggled with an insufficient budget since the 1990’s, with the major decreases in government spending occurring under the Clinton administration. Committee Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson explained in her opening statement that three successive authorization acts over the past six years have called for a program for human exploration beyond low-Earth orbit yet NASA still has not presented a plan for such activity.
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden began his testimony by emphasizing that he is the person to blame for the delays, not the Obama administration. He explained that NASA is making decisions in challenging fiscal times and that it would be irresponsible to present the plan to Congress without firm cost estimates, which they do not yet have. He concluded that the plan will ideally be ready by the end of this summer but may take even longer. However, he confidently assured, “American leadership in space will continue for at least the next half-century.” Bolden added that NASA aims to reach an asteroid by 2025 and eventually Mars and its moons.
Much of the question and answer period focused on NASA’s budget with committee members from both parties recognizing NASA’s fiscal constraints. Chip Cravaack (R-MN) asked what poses the biggest threat to American space exploration and Bolden responded without hesitation “the economy.” Donna Edwards (D-MD), Mo Brooks (R-AL), and Hansen Clarke (D-MI) all expressed concern over the House Appropriations Committee’s July 6 budget proposal which would eliminate the James Webb Space Telescope, the successor of the Hubble Telescope. This would be part of a 1.6 billion dollar decrease in NASA’s fiscal year (FY) 2012 budget from the FY 2011 budget. Clarke explained that 8,000 scientists would lose their jobs as a result.
Jerry McNerney (D-CA) asked Bolden about the benefit of manned versus non-manned space exploration. Bolden responded that the first astronauts to reach the moon were highly trained in geology and they collected rocks that had never been seen before, which they had not been instructed to bring back. He explained that a robot would not be able to do this. Bolden concluded that this is just one example of the importance of manned space flight.
Johnson, Chuck Fleischmann (R-TN), and Andy Harris (R-MD) asked Bolden about the future of NASA’s low-Earth orbit activities. Johnson asked particularly about the future of the International Space Station. Bolden explained that NASA has budgeted to visit the station until 2020, emphasizing that “we are not abandoning human space flight.” He added that low-Earth orbit space flight will become a commercial activity under the President’s plan. Harris asked if the U.S. would rely on Russia for space flight for the next four years until NASA’s new space program begins. Bolden responded that the U.S. will depend on both international partners and commercial entities. Fleischmann asked if NASA plans to have another trip to the moon in the near future. Bolden responded that there will probably need to be another lunar trip before travelling to an asteroid or Mars. He said that there will probably also need to be a trip to geosynchronous orbit for satellite repair.
Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) criticized the focus on deep-space exploration rather than low-Earth orbit activities. “We’re chasing something for the distant future rather than doing what we could do today,” he said. He emphasized that focusing on exploring deep-space with humans wastes billions of dollars that could be spent on more fiscally efficient activities such as maintaining telescopes and cleaning up space debris. Steven Palazzo (R-MS), chairman of the Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics, questioned why NASA’s first long-term goal is to reach an asteroid. Bolden responded that the most important reason is that the prospect of an asteroid coming close, or even hitting, Earth in the near future is not outlandish. By studying asteroids, he explained, humans will improve understanding of how to protect the planet from such an event.
Johnson and Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD) both discussed NASA’s important role in encouraging students to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Bartlett recalled the impact of humans reaching the moon by inspiring students to pursue careers in STEM disciplines in the 1970s. “No one is capturing the imagination of our young people,” he said, adding that China has seven times as many graduates in STEM disciplines than the U.S. each year. Johnson further expressed concern over the message that consistent decreases in NASA’s budget sends to the next generation of scientists. Bolden agreed that the U.S. is failing to inspire students to pursue math and science careers, but added that the lack of interest in STEM disciplines is a problem all over the world. He explained that NASA employees visit schools all over the country to encourage STEM education.
An archived webcast of the hearing, testimonies, and the hearing charter can be found here.
Committee Members Present
The House Committee on Appropriations Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Subcommittee held a hearing on the President’s fiscal year (FY) 2012 Budget for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) on March 3, 2011.
Chairman Frank Wolf (R-VA) opened the hearing by attacking the President’s budget and its departure from the NASA Authorization Act of 2010, (S.3729; Public Law 111-267). “No amount of authorizing language can hold NASA to a particular goal or commitment if that language isn’t backed up by the budget,” he said. Wolf further chided the funding levels for the Space Launch System and the Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle. In his belief, the funding levels “virtually guarantee” NASA will not have the capabilities to develop these technologies by the 2016 deadline in the authorization act.
Administrator Charles Bolden reassured the committee that NASA was funding all the projects and programs in the authorization act appropriately though certain “tough cuts” had to be made. He displayed graphs illustrating human space flight as 57 percent of NASA’s budget and described the importance of the International Space Station (ISS) as an “anchor for future exploration.”
During the question and answer period, Wolf and Steve Austria (R-OH) tried to find areas of duplication between NASA and other agencies. Concerned with the amount of money allocated for Earth science, Wolf asked Bolden if there were ways to “free up NASA’s resources” by passing on responsibilities to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), or the National Science Foundation (NSF). Bolden said, “Everything we do in NASA with Earth science is unique to NASA.” He cited a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report from October of 2009 that found no duplication between NOAA and NASA’s Earth science programs and a memorandum of understanding with USGS on the implementation and operation of the Land Remote System Program (Landsat 7). Wolf was still convinced that NASA would benefit from a decrease in Earth science funding but did agree to look at the GAO report.
More supportive of Earth science funding was Representative Jo Bonner (R-AL), who was very concerned with the public’s perception of NASA. “We need to make sure the American citizens understand what NASA is doing now, not forty years ago,” he said. The first objective of the National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958 was to expand human knowledge of the Earth. Bonner saw NASA’s research in Earth science as fundamental to the health and well-being of the American people. Adam Schiff (D-CA) was also supportive of earth science research, calling it “a good investment,” and asked Bolden questions about the potential launch date of DESDynI (Deformation, Ecosystem Structure and Dynamics of Ice, a satellite dedicated to InSAR and LIDAR work to study hazards and changes to the Earth system). Bolden took the question as an opportunity to express his frustration with having no budget yet for 2011. “If I can get a budget for 2011, it keeps Earth science on course to plan for what I get in 2012,” he argued. “If what I get in 2011 is significantly lower than 2012, [then] 2012 is a mess,” Bolden warned.
Led by John Culberson (R-TX), the committee agreed that NASA needs to be free to terminate the Constellation program. Language in the appropriations bill prohibits NASA from terminating any element of Constellation, even programs not in line with the new direction given in the more recent authorization act. “One thing I hope we can do is to, in one of the short-term CRs we’re dealing with, is get you some immediate clarification on that,” Culberson said.
Other topics discussed by Bolden and the members included science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education efforts, human rights issues in China, the future of the retiring shuttle fleet, and the soon to be released decadal survey on planetary science.
A link to information on the hearing can be found here.
Committee Members Present
The House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology held a hearing on the President’s fiscal year (FY) 2012 Budget for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) on March 2, 2011.
Chairman Ralph Hall (R-TX) opened the hearing describing his concern for the future of the space program, specifically human space flight. Citing recent problems with the termination of Constellation, Hall urged NASA to craft realistic plans and to execute them with efficiency and thrift. Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) warned that arguments over NASA’s budget should result in cuts neither to critical investments in research and development (R&D), which she called a “vital resource”, nor to investments in Earth science. She apologized for the lack of a solid budget by expressing her sympathy to “the challenges you are facing, Mr. Administrator, in trying to plan and carry out the challenging activities that the nation has asked you to undertake when the budgetary sands keep shifting under you.”
Before commenting on the President’s budget request, Administrator Charles Bolden began his testimony with a video greeting to the committee from astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS). Bolden then assured the committee that the $18.7 billion request for FY 2012, a hold from 2010 spending levels, was enough to “invest in excellent science to win the future” and provided NASA with a “clear direction.” To address Chairman Hall and other’s apprehension about the future of human space flight, Bolden displayed various graphs showing how human space flight is still a substantial 57 percent of the budget. Bolden said safety remains his “number one priority,” but he spent time discussing the heightened importance of the ISS as an exceptional research center and “anchor for future exploration.”
Most of the question and answer session was dominated by discussion of the future commercial space flight program, in which NASA would transfer lower orbit operations over to private companies such as Boeing and Orbital. Bolden explained that the most efficient and fastest way to get his astronauts into lower orbit safely was with established private contractors, allowing NASA to focus on deeper space exploration. NASA’s long term goals and schedule were investigated by the committee. Bolden avoided giving concrete launch dates for most projects, including Earth science related missions CLARREO and DESDynI, citing uncertainty in the budget battle for 2011. Congressman Lamar Smith (R-TX) dove into this topic by asking Bolden whether NASA could in fact complete its goals, like enabling a heavy lift module in 2016, with the current budget. “Very difficult,” responded Bolden, “but not impossible.”
Representative Donna Edwards (D-MD) sought to understand the lack of consistency in Earth science funding between the authorization and budget request (about $150 million in cuts). Bolden called these cuts “very difficult” but elaborated on the importance of Earth science telling the committee, “we need the tools to see natural hazards…the atmosphere, oceans, [and] topography.” Edwards supported Bolden’s comments by requesting a focused look at the Earth science program to make sure there are no gaps. Administrator Bolden cautioned the committee not to inject politics in their consideration of NASA’s Earth science funding by warning against “dumb things like taking away satellites because of global warming.”
“I don’t do global warming,” Bolden said, “I do Earth science.”
“I don’t do global warming, either,” Chairman Hall deadpanned.
Other discussion areas included STEM education, NextGen and aeronautics issues, the benefit of NASA technologies to the manufacturing sector, and the future of various NASA facilities and centers in members’ districts.
Testimony from the chair and witness, as well as an archived webcast, can be found here.
Committee Members Present
The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies held a hearing on “Oversight of the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)” to learn more about budgetary issues concerning the two agencies on February 10, 2011.
Chairman Frank Wolf (R-VA) began by saying that the appropriate handlings of NSF’s and NASA’s budgets are some of the “biggest management challenges” that face the subcommittee.
Allison Lerner, NSF Inspector General, outlined a few areas within NSF that could benefit from strengthened financial responsibility. “They can do more,” she said, to improve grant administration and strengthen contract management.
Wolf asked Lerner for suggestions on how to save money without affecting funding for the sciences. She mentioned that NSF spent nearly $500,000 on food-related payments in 2008 and 2009 to provide refreshments for visiting scientists and panelists. Though none of these costs had associated fraud, she thought there could be room for savings. Ranking Member Chaka Fattah (D-PA) responded that “in defense of coffee and donuts,” it is probably appropriate to offer refreshments to invited scientists.
Strengthening oversight of funding allocation to grantees may be one of the most promising ways to improve efficiency, said Lerner. This would include more monitoring and data analysis to make sure payments are going to where they are needed. Wolf asked about whether there is adequate justification for cost reimbursement contracts. While the preferred method is fixed-priced funding, sometimes cost reimbursement makes more sense, Lerner answered. “There is a risk of improper payments. We just don’t know,” she acknowledged.
Lerner said that 25 percent of application requests for funding are granted, in response to Representative John Culberson’s (R-TX) question. Several members of the subcommittee favor support for science and innovation, with Chairman Wolf hoping that the percentage could increase to 28, 29, or even 30 percent of projects funded. “I am with you,” he said.
Paul Martin, NASA Inspector General, discussed the “continuing lack of clarity” in budget and funding that is facing NASA. The language in the continuing resolution (CR) that currently funds NASA is in direct conflict with the NASA Authorization Act of 2010, (S.3729; Public Law 111-267), he said. The CR requires NASA to continue funding current projects, including the Constellation program, which is set to be cancelled under the Authorization Act. This means NASA could spend up to $215 million on Constellation projects unless Congress takes immediate action. In addition, it is still unclear whether NASA will receive appropriate amounts of funding to achieve goals of completing remaining shuttle flights while also developing a new space launch system, said Martin. “It’s really that Congress has been the one to provide the lack of clarity,” acknowledged Fattah.
NASA has room for improvement in predicting reasonable project budgets and schedules and staying within them, according to Martin. “The agency must do a better job to manage cost and schedules,” he elaborated. However, “for some projects, it really is rocket science,” he clarified.
Wolf asked what savings are possible within NASA. Martin outlined three areas, including the mentioned conundrum created by CR language and improving project management. The third area is in NASA’s infrastructure and maintenance. More than 80 percent of NASA facilities are at least 40 years old, he noted, and more than $2.5 billion was spent in 2009 on “fixing the roof and plugging the holes” on these aging facilities.
Other issues of concern to NASA include balancing and managing contract jobs. 85% of funds go to contractors, said Martin. As NASA transitions according to the President’s vision to using private company rockets and related contracts, it is important to remember that the agency has always operated on a public-private system, said Fattah. Furthermore, Martin described fraud and waste within the Small Business Innovation Research Program (SBIR), an eleven agency cooperative that provides grants, that needs to be eliminated. Culberson, Wolf and José Serrano (D-NY) suggested that NASA could coordinate with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to find projects and missions that overlap and make appropriate consolidation to cut costs.
In all, the most important issue to clear up is that there are two conflicting statutes because of current law; the authorizing act sets NASA’s direction, but the appropriations act sets the funding, said Martin.
Wolf wanted to see cybersecurity improved within both agencies. NASA is one of the top three or four targets of cyber attacks, according to Martin, and attacks by countries including China, Russia, Estonia and some in Africa are frequent and detrimental. Information from NSF appeared on a server in a former Soviet Union country around Christmas time, said Lerner.
A sense of urgency regarding America’s race to be the premier science nation in the world permeated the subcommittee, and several members expressed their desire to protect NSF and NASA from expected large budget cuts. Improvement in science, innovation and space exploration “is what’s going to save this nation,” said Culberson. “America is falling behind in science,” noted Wolf, and he said that if the country is going to have a modern-day Renaissance in science education and innovation, Congress will have to provide continued support.
Information on the hearing can be found here.
For more information on NASA budgetary issues, see AGI’s January Monthly Review.
Sources: Hearing Testimonies
Contributed by AGI Geoscience Policy Staff; Dana Thomas, AAPG/AGI Spring 2011 Intern; Erin Camp, AAPG/AGI Fall 2011 Intern; Aaron Rodriguez AAPG/AGI Spring 2012 Intern; Nell Hoagland AIPG/AGI Summer 2012 Intern and Stephen Ginley AIPG/AGI Summer 2012 Intern.
Please send any comments or requests for information to AGI Geoscience Policy.
Last updated on August 6, 2012