Two key U.S. senators blasted NASA on Tuesday for letting “continual, unabated” overruns undermine public faith in the agency’s ability to manage its multibillion-dollar space station program.
Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Bill Frist, R-Tenn., promised hearings early next year to get to the bottom of the problem. McCain is chairman of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, which oversees NASA, and Frist chairs the subcommittee dealing with space.
In a bluntly worded letter to NASA Administrator Dan Goldin, the two lawmakers expressed support for the program in general but said the cost problems threaten to do “irreparable damage” to it.
“I am sure you can understand that we cannot ask the taxpayer to foot the bill for a project with openended, continually rising costs, the grand total of which seems unknown,” the letter said. “It is unfair and irresponsible.”
Goldin was traveling Tuesday, and his office said he had not yet seen the McCain-Frist letter.
NASA has projected that the station general contractor - the Boeing Co. - is $817 million over budget. The senators’ letter, however, quoted a recent Science magazine report that the station overrun actually may total $1.5 billion.
To keep the $2.1-billion-a-year program on schedule, NASA has been forced to beg Congress for extra money and siphon still more from other parts of its budget.
Congress beefed up station spending to $2.3 billion for 1998. But the agency claims that will still fall $200 million short, and has hinted that it may be forced to tap into the space shuttle budget to make up the difference.
The international, orbiting laboratory is to be launched and assembled in space over five years starting next June.