Sens. Cruz & Nelson Criticize Plan to End ISS Financial Support

International Space Station (Credit: NASA)

Senators express concerns over proposed cuts to the International Space Station
in letters to Director Mulvaney, Acting NASA Administrator Lightfoot

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Sens. Ted Cruz & Bill Nelson PR) – Last week, U.S. Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), the chairman of the Subcommittee on Space, Science and Competiveness, and the ranking member of the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, sent the following oversight letters to Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney and Acting NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot Jr. In the letters, the Senators expressed their concerns with the President’s FY 2019 Budget Request for NASA, which proposes ending direct U.S. Government funding for the International Space Station (ISS) by 2025.

The letter notes that Congress enacted and the President signed the bipartisan NASA Transition Authorization Act of 2017 (P.L. 115-10), which required NASA, ISS partners, the scientific user community, and the commercial space sector to develop an ISS transition plan which includes exploring the feasibility of extending the operations of the ISS to 2024, 2028, and 2030. The transition plan was required by federal law to be submitted to Congress as a report no later than December 1, 2017. Congress has still not received the administration’s report.

“The International Space Station is the largest and most complex habitable space-based research facility ever constructed by humanity,” the Senators wrote. “It’s a marvel of engineering, and critically important to our nation’s space program. For over 17 years, the ISS has provided the United States with continuous access to low Earth orbit, which has been paramount to the success of NASA, our commercial partners, scientific research, and human space exploration. That’s why it is concerning that the President’s FY 2019 Budget Request for NASA proposes ‘to end direct U.S. Government funding for the space station [ISS] by 2025 and provides $150 million to begin a program that would encourage commercial development of capabilities that NASA can use in its place.’ While we have been strong proponents of the U.S. commercial space sector, prematurely ending direct U.S. Government funding of ISS could have disastrous consequences. The future of ISS should be determined by the emergence of a viable and proven commercial alternative and the needs of our national space program.”

The Senators continued, “In fact, Congress specifically required that the transition plan include cost estimates for extending operations of the ISS to 2024, 2028, and 2030, and an evaluation of the feasible and preferred service life of the ISS through at least 2028 as a unique scientific, commercial, and space exploration related facility. P.L. 115-10 specifically required the NASA Administrator to deliver a report to Congress no later than December 1, 2017. As of today, that report has not been delivered to Congress as required by federal statute.

Read the full letter to Director Mulvaney here. Read the full letter to Acting Administrator Lightfoot here.

  • Robert G. Oler

    its never going to happen

  • Vladislaw

    “The transition plan was required by federal law to be submitted to Congress as a report no later than December 1, 2017. Congress has still not received the administration’s report.”

    Why bother with a transition report if there is not going to be a transition?

  • P.K. Sink

    Definitely need a smoother transition than we had with shuttle-commercial.

  • Michael Halpern

    Going to need more than 150m a year to make it happen

  • Michael Halpern

    On the flip side these things are often late

  • therealdmt

    “P.L. 115-10 specifically required the NASA Administrator to deliver a report to Congress no later than December 1, 2017. As of today, that report has not been delivered to Congress as required by federal statute.”

    Lock him or her up!

    Oh wait, there *is* no NASA Administrator. Tricky

  • Jeff2Space

    Eventually ISS will become too old and far too expensive to operate. Its life has to end sometime.

  • Robert G. Oler

    but we are some distance from that…and what should be the cornerstone of federal space policy is to “fix” ISS including updating its systems/modules, having more private “space” interaction including a Bigelow and other modules…ditch the microgravity mission and move toward mG free flyers

  • Michael Halpern

    Actually we are closer than you think, already a huge portion of crew time is eaten up by maintenance, and that isn’t consodering the lifetime of the power and thermal management systems

  • Tom Billings

    As early as 2005 people were noting that ISS required 5 man-months/month just for maintenance. The changes needed to fix *that* are far greater in cost than just building a new one. That is, unless they start using the Dragon as the “escape capsule, and allow 7 people to be permanently station aboard ISS. That will double the hours available for the operations that are the purported reason for ISS to exist. Any new station will probably be commercial. Nelson and Cruz are simply bitching that NASA isn’t stretching things to the absolute limit on the program that keeps their constituents in paychecks.

  • Michael Halpern

    Still important to have a place in LEO to replace it before or shortly after retiring it, and that will require time and money even with commercial

  • Michael Halpern

    Dragon 2 and cst 100 are going to carry 4 and have lifeboat capacity for a reason, even if you could use dragon 1 to escape you still need a way to get the extra person there

    Besides it isn’t always Dragon that does crs, Cyngus does too, and it can’t survive reentry

  • Robert G. Oler

    not really ISS has barely managed 1 man day of science for a long time

  • Robert G. Oler

    depends on what you mean by commercial…there is near zero way Bigelow will be able to launch a module without government funds

  • Michael Halpern

    Exactly why it makes sense to think about replacing it, as more systems deteriorate even less science will be done it costs too much to replace those systems completely so that remaining option is to replace the station, which may be less expensive

  • Michael Halpern

    COTS, CRS, CCP style commercial

  • Richard Malcolm

    Actually, once Commercial Crew is in operation, the plan is to increase crew size from 6 to 7, which I understand will allow them to double the amount of crew supervised scientific research.

  • Richard Malcolm

    That’s the point: Dragon 2 and Starliner will both be set up to carry 4 crew (though they have capacity for up to 7, if the configuration is desired) – added to the three crew who come up on Soyuz, that gives you 7 at any one time.

  • Larque

    $150m isn’t bad for first year. Needs to be more later.

  • ThomasLMatula

    True, but they don’t have to be from the U.S. government,.. BA has had a waiting list of sovereign customers for a while. And given the cost of a B330 they likely only need 10-12 foreign astronauts to break even.

  • windbourne

    That is scary.
    If by adding 1 person, it doubles the research, that implies that right now, 1 out of 6 is devoted to research and the rest are working on the ISS itself.

  • Michael Halpern

    More or less around there, i am sure it varries

  • Robert G. Oler

    I am not sure that is accurate…we need to augment the station not replace it

  • Michael Halpern

    Augment it how with billions of dollars from where? Verses commercial which based on cots, crs and ccp is likely to be far less expensive for something that may be more effective, just 3 b330s = the pressurized volume of ISS, think about that

  • Robert G. Oler

    nothing is going to happen anywhere unless we cancel SLS and Orion and free up 3 or so billion a year.

    there wont be a Bigelow module in space without federal money

  • Michael Halpern

    They have 2 under construction and considerable private interest in addition that’s what 150m was allocated for in this year’s budget, more will be needed but a cots style station program is the way to go not fully federal fed

  • Robert G. Oler

    none of them will go to orbit without far more federal dollars and a “anchor tenant” agreement

  • Michael Halpern

    This is true but far fewer federal dollars then making iss less maintenance intensive would take assuming it’s even possible to do so

  • windbourne

    still, if we will get multiple companies doing stations and shooting for the moon, I suspect that they will push hard to get their maintenance costs very low.

    I do have to say that I like the design that SNC is doing for DSG.
    Basically, using fabric station, made by ILC Dover, and then have 2 different addons. One for basically a tug, and the other for life support, electrical, etc.

    With that approach, they can put several life support units on a station and then if one dies, not a big deal, just launch a new one.

  • James

    FFS just build a new station with bigelow modules Put it in a more stable orbit and build it so it can expanded. Go on after that and see what you need to do.