A U.S. House subcommittee taking testimony from space industry representatives and academic experts praised efforts to get to the bottom of a string of failed unmanned missions during the past year.
The July 10 hearing by the U.S. House Subcommittee on Space examined the impact on the multinational International Space Station and U.S. space agency NASA from the high-profile mishaps.
Most recently, SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket exploded soon after launch in a June 28 ISS resupply mission, causing the simultaneous loss of a Dragon cargo ship. NASA said the latest mishap resulted in the loss of $110 million in cargo.
“Members and witnesses noted these challenges at Friday’s hearing and pointed to the program’s effective response as a testament to NASA, ISS partners, and contractors,” the subcommittee said after the hearing in Washington, D.C.
Cause of the SpaceX failure is being probed. On July 2, a Russian rocket successfully launched into orbit a resupply cargo ship that docked with the ISS on July 5.
SpaceX’s failed resupply mission was the first attempt at a robotic cargo delivery since April 28, when a Russian capsule malfunctioned and resulted in the loss of a 3-ton payload. And on Oct. 28, 2014, Orbital Science’s unmanned cargo launch failed just after launch.
The multinational ISS mission already was the source of funding flaps in Congress, and project advocates worry that the string of resupply failures could heighten tensions. NASA aims to resume manned spaceflight by 2017 after several years of depending on Russia to shuttle spacecrew to the ISS, and the Obama administration wants to extend ISS operations until 2024.
Rep. Bruce Babin: “Operational challenges facing the ISS program.”[/caption]“From advances in our understanding of human health and performance to our use of new materials to the utilization of robotics and satellites, the benefits we receive from the ISS are many and diverse,” said U.S. Rep. Brian Babin, a Republican from Texas who chairs the subcommittee. “In addition to the benefits back on Earth, the ISS offers the conditions necessary to prepare and develop critical technologies for deep space and long-duration human spaceflight missions.
“This committee has a responsibility to ensure that the American taxpayers are getting all that they can from every dollar they send to the federal government,” Babin added. “I believe this investment is worthwhile and that the benefits far outweigh the cost. Support for the ISS and its operations and utilization is not a partisan issue, it is an American issue. I look forward to working with my friends on the other side of the aisle and our partners in the space industry to understand how we can all meet the operational challenges facing the ISS program.”
John Elbon, vice president-GM of space exploration at Boeing, was among those giving testimony to the subcommittee.
“(The) ISS is an engineering marvel, a beacon for international cooperation and a shining example of what can be achieved through strong leadership and unity of purpose for the benefit of humankind,” Elbon told the subcommittee.
Boeing is an ISS contractor for sustaining engineering. Others testifying before the subcommittee included Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA’s associate administrator for human exploration and operations missions; NASA’s inspector general, Paul Martin; Shelby Oakley, acting director of acquisition and sourcing management in the U.S. Government Accountability Office; and James Pawelczyk, associate professor of physiology and kinesiology at Pennsylvania State University.
The subcommittee is part of the House Committee on Science, Space, Technology.
Read hearing statements: