[FPSPACE] ISS in trouble (no surprise)

Dwayne Allen Day wayneday@gwis2.circ.gwu.edu
Tue, 08 Jan 2002 22:59:25 -0500 (EST)


Bush science advisor says station needs major reforms
Posted: January 9, 2002

The International Space Station program could be in serious jeopardy if it
cannot correct its management problems in the near future, President
George W. Bush's science advisor said Tuesday. 
John Marburger, the director of the Office of Science and Technology
Policy, told reporters that while the Bush Administration continues to
support the space station, reforming its management is a major priority. 
"The space station is a troubled project but it is an important
one," Marburger said. "The space station has a major management problem
and it is very difficult to understand what needs to be done... No one
knows how much it will cost." 
In November an independent review panel led by former Lockheed Martin
executive Thomas Young recommended that NASA hold off on expanding the
station beyond the "core complete" phase for at least two years until the
problems with the station program can be understood and corrected. New
NASA administrator Sean O'Keefe has indicated that he supports this
This decision has been controversial among the station's international
partners, including Canada, Europe, Japan, and Russia, because the core
complete version of the station features neither a habitation module nor a
crew return vehicle. Without those additions the station can only support
three-person crews, severely limiting the amount of science that can be
performed on the station, as well as reducing opportunities for station
visits by astronauts from nations other than the US and Russia. 
European officials have gone so far as to ask US Secretary of State Colin
Powell to intervene, noting that the agreement among the international
partners has the power of a treaty that the US would be violating if it
did not provide the hab module and crew return vehicle. Marburger said he
believed that the concerns of the international partners can be worked
Saying the ISS program "needs help," Marburger noted that it is still
important to get the station up and running. "It would be a scandal if the
station was not exploited," he said. 
However, Marburger hinted that the Bush Administration might take more
extreme measures with the station program if its management and cost
problems cannot be resolved. "If we can't get our arms around the
management of the space station, there are a lot worse things that could
happen." This was interpreted to mean anything up to and including
cancellation of the project, in the worst possible case. 
Marburger spoke with reporters after addressing a plenary session of a
meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Washington, DC. In his
speech, one of his first public addresses on the topics of astronomy and
space sciences since becoming director in the fall, he said that
astronomers who receive federal funding will have to make more of an
effort to explain why their often esoteric research is important. 
"This administration values discovery science and will continue to support
it," he said. However, he said that scientists working on basic research,
without any immediate practical application, should realize that the
government and taxpayers "want to know what they're getting out of an
Marburger, a former director of the Brookhaven National Laboratory, drew a
parallel between research in astronomy and that in particular physics. In
both cases, he said, have little relevance to the public. However,
astronomy has the advantage in that it has wide public appeal compared to
particle physics and has traditionally received considerable support from
the private sector, factors that may allow the field to handle changes in
federal funding better than particle physics, which struggled in the
While not discussing funding levels, Marburger suggested that the Bush
Administration's focus was not on basic research in fields like astronomy,
but on the "frontier of complexity" in areas like biotechnology and
information technology. Research in these areas could yield practical
applications, and do so for less money that fields like astronomy, which
has grown increasing reliant on large, expensive telescopes and spacecraft
for what Marburger called "diminishing returns." 
These constrains will force the astronomy community to come up with ways
of evaluating the success of various research projects, although how that
will be done is an open question. "You have to have some way of selecting
what to do with a specific amount of money," Marburger said.