Thursday, April 24, 2008

Congressional Hearing on ISS Status and Issues

The following is a rough transcript for the question segment of the House Committee hearing on Science and Technology for the ISS: Status and Issues:

Udall Q: How much will the taxpayers have paid for the station total?
Gerstenmaier: Be more specific. There are many costs that are indirectly related. Lets get back to that when you have the specifics

Udall: The station lives off consumables brought up by the shuttle. How important are these?
Gerstenmaier: we have 2 contingency flights that are ready to bring up spares in the manifest. This gives us breathing room if the commercial launch supply can’t deliver as soon as we would like. "Wwe just activated a lot of our systems on the outside of the space station" and they consume supplies.

Udall: You speak to the risk that we would incur if we didn’t fly those two contingency shuttle flights.
Gerstenmaier: We have seen some components perform much better than we had expected, and others that have not performed as well. The solar array rotator units and the CMG (control momnet gyros) have not performed as well, and that’s why we have the contingency flights.

Udall: Are those part of the manifest?
Gerstenmaier: They are part of the manifest, but they haven’t been approved or funded yet

Udall: Any backup plan if those flights cant be flown?
Gerstenmaier: If they don't fly, we will asses the risk of not having those spares.

Chaplin: If the spares to get pushed off until the COTS vehicles become available, the COTS vehicles might not be able to bring up the large spares. Or they might not be able to fit the spares planned for the contingency with the other parts that they need to bring.

Hall: You mentioned the risks if they cant fly. What if we do fly? With NASA's reliance on Soyuz, could you provide us with details about the reentry problem? What actions are being taken by the Russians to ensure safety?

Gerstenmaier: Both flights had a ballistic reentry. It spun like a bullet rather than flying with a controlled trajectory. Both vehicles had a failure of the service module to separate from the service module. The lower section did not properly release. The Russians saw that for the first vehicle and showed us conclusively that that is what happened because there was telemetry coming across a cable that should have been severed. It has not yet been proven conclusively what happened with this most recent vehicle. The fact that this problem has happened with two vehicles means that there is probably a design problem or a manufacturing change and we are going to look at that.

Hall: You may have to answer this in writing. In order for NASA to continue buying Soyuz, congress has to approve an exception to the Iran non-proliferation act. What would be the consequences if Congress did not pass that exception this year but it didn’t happen until next year.

Gerstenmaier: We really need that now. It takes 3 years to get the vehicle built. We need to get that approval this summer. We need a US presence to operate the US segment and we need the Soyuz to get us there. The only way to get them there initially is with the Soyuz. It is mandatory that congress approve the exception the Iran non-proliferation act.

Hall: Or we might have to abandon the ISS if congress doesn’t approve it and we don’t want that. It has a bad effect on the international partners.

Lampson: I may sound like a broken record about the Alpha Magnetic Spectometer. There is a lot of hope that that can be sent up. I hope that the contingency flights do get funded. Is there a possibility that the AMS can go up the shuttle before the shuttle program ends. What other hardware has been developed that isn’t scheduled for flight? is NASA going to launch it?

Gerstenmaier: In terms of the AMS we don’t see a spot in the current shuttle management. If I took those spares off of the spares for AMS, then I wouldn’t have the spares that would be needed. The contingency flights could not be used for the AMS because the space is needed to run the AMS itself.

Other hardware was cancelled before it was ready to be flown, including the CAM. However, the Cuppola will still go up. Combustion research will still go up. Our goal is to outfit station with the best racks that we can and we are still on track.

Gerstenmaier: I'll look and see if there is any other hardware that is ready to fly but isn’t on the manifest and get back to you.

Lampson: Is it worth congresses money to complete this other hardware (CAM) to fly it and launch?

Gerstenmaier: I'm an engineer who builds the stuff, I don’t have the best answer for that.

Lampson: If we hadn’t shut down the X-33 we might not have needed to rely on the Soyuz. We canceled it at the end of the X-33 and it cost more to shut down the project than it would have taken to complete it.

It is critical for our reputation to the world that if we want to work with with other countries on science related projects we need to do what we say that we are going to do. "I hope and pray that we don’t loose our position to other nations in this space race"

Rorabacher: Can you tell us about the willingness of the Russians and their likylyhood to expand our cooperation to make up for the loss of the shuttle?

Gerstenmaier: We have really come to work together through this project. When the Columbia was lost the Russians rose to that challenge and provided the Soyuz. If it weren’t for the Russians and their support, we would not have a space station. They need us as much as we need them. We give them power. They recognize that they can not run the station without us, but they will want compensation to provide the flights.

Rohrabacher: are they capable for delivering spares to keep the us segment operating?

Gerstenmaier: they can not provide our spares. We will have commercial re-supply give our supplies. The European ATV can also bring up US supplies. The Japanese have a test propulsion article and it might be able to provide spares for us.

Rohrabacher: But what do we have that is online or that hasn’t only flown once?

Gerstenmaier: The thing thats online is the European ATV.

Rohrabacher: so the ATV will provide us the capability that can provide the spares ability that we need.

Gerstenmaier: we will need a combination of vehicles.

Rohrabacher: We have been short sighted. It was hard to project that we could have lost the shuttles. Congress and this committee have been unwilling to prioritize. Its not that there has not been enough money to spend, but we haven’t been able to say "no" to things that have taken money away from completing the international space station. We heard about today that microscopic imaging and storage would help us utilize this great asses in a way that would let us achieve more. Is there any thought as to what it would cost to provide that to the station?

Gerstenmaier we have a -80 degrees freezer that can provide cold storage and some small centrifuges. We need to talk with the scientific community and make sure that we have what is available to the scientific community.

Rohrabacher: There is great value to be achieved with what we have constructed. If we can achieve billions of dollars of return for only a couple of million dollars of equipment. Maybe the private sector would be willing to pay the millions to get the billions of return. We should be thinking creatively and out of the box about how we can work with the Russians about how to think that way. Udall and I will be traveling to Russia to talk about this. Any advice that NASA has about this for how we can talk to the Russians would be appreciated.

Udall: we are running out of time for this hearing. NASA’s agreement is that the station operate until 2016. What would it take to get that extended?

Gerstenmaier: COTS or Orion could keep us going. We need some small studies that are done with the Russians for the life of the station and we have contracts and agreements with the Russians to continue the sustaining engineering work

Udall: But the Russians won’t provide escape ability once the Orion is operational or when a crewed COTS return comes online. When do you see the Orion becoming totally operational

Gerstenmaier: 2016 is when it will be totally online. I know that’s at the end of the station life. Regarding COTS, it would be best to ask the commercial sector when they think that they will be ready.

Udall: what do the COTS companies need to do to be ready?
Gerstenmaier: the recent Soyuz incidents show what a hard thing it is to dock for 6 months and come down and land. COTS will have many engineering milestones to achieve.

Udall: How important is it that NASA can purchase any tools that they need from Russia? Will the ISS be endangered if we don’t allow NASA to buy these things from Russia?

Gerstenmaier: the pump in the quest airlock is Russian provided and it must be provided by Russia. There are many other components that are small and must be provided for the life of the station

Udall: lots of suppliers work with Russians
Gerstenmaier: some of the cots bidders use Russian components and engines so they will need congressional authorization if the COTS participant that uses Russian components is selected

Udall: You talk about the Soyuz landing 400K away from their landing zone. If that happened in Colorado, they would land in mountain peaks. In Russians area they don’t have that. Could you elaborate?

Gerstenmaier "There’s is a lot of land that is open... Its not nearly as pretty as Colorado. They landed near some farmers who had started a brush fire before they had landed.

Udall: the astronauts opened the hatch say the fire, and closed the hatch. The parachute caught fire and was consumed in the brush fire. The Kazak farmers got there by the the that they opened that hatch.

Hall: I wanted to thank this group. I want to recognize that Gerstenmaier is the best program manager that NASA has ever had. Thank you.

Udall: This is very important testimony. The record will remain open for further questions from the panel. This hearing is now adjourned.

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