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Funding Shortfalls Have Hurt NASA's Constellation Program

At the September 15th hearing the chair of the review committee, Mr. Norman Augustine, provided the committee's assessment of the Constellation program, stating that: "We did review the program, its management. We believe it to be soundly managed...We believe that the existing program, given adequate funds, is executable and would carry out its objectives."
by Staff Writers
Washington DC (SPX) Sep 28, 2009
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has released a report, "NASA: Constellation Program Cost and Schedule Will Remain Uncertain Until a Sound Business Case is Established". The report was requested by House Committee on Science and Technology Chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN), as part of the Committee's ongoing oversight of NASA's major acquisition programs.

NASA's Constellation program is developing the Ares I Crew Launch Vehicle and the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle as the agency's first major development projects in a national initiative to return Americans to the Moon and eventually send humans to Mars as well as other destinations in the solar system.

GAO's report, which was based on a review conducted earlier this year, was completed prior to the successful completion of the Orion preliminary design review (PDR), the successful test firing of the Ares I first stage booster rocket, the establishment of a launch date for the Ares I-X test flight, and the decision to adopt a single- or dual-plane isolator system to address any thrust oscillation vibrations that might occur on the Ares I launch vehicle.

Chairman Gordon asked GAO to assess NASA's progress in implementing prior GAO's recommendations for the Ares I and Orion projects, and to identify risks, if any, faced by the Constellation Program.

GAO found a poorly phased funding plan that runs the risk of funding shortfalls in fiscal years 2009 through 2012, resulting in planned work not being completed to support schedules and milestones. This approach, GAO reported, has limited NASA's ability to mitigate technical risks early in development and precludes the orderly ramp up of workforce and developmental activities.

"Following on the heels of the Science and Technology Committee's September 15, 2009 hearing on the Review of U.S. Human Space Flight Plans Committee's Summary Report, during which it became crystal clear that NASA hasn't been given adequate resources to implement the Constellation Program, it should come as no surprise that funding is at the center of NASA's inability to complete the work necessary to build confidence in the cost and schedule estimates the agency develops for Constellation" Gordon said.

At the September 15th hearing the chair of the review committee, Mr. Norman Augustine, provided the committee's assessment of the Constellation program, stating that: "We did review the program, its management. We believe it to be soundly managed...We believe that the existing program, given adequate funds, is executable and would carry out its objectives."

"Constellation has been underway for four years, and we have invested almost $8 billion in it to date. I am heartened that the review committee found the program to be sound and one that can be successfully implemented if given adequate resources in a timely manner. GAO's report provides a sobering indication of the negative impact that funding shortfalls can have on complex and technically difficult space flight programs like Constellation, no matter how dedicated and skillful the program's workforce is," added Gordon.

GAO recommended that, as NASA addresses the findings and recommendations of the Review of U.S. Human Space Flight Plans being conducted per direction from the president, the NASA Administrator direct the Constellation program, or its successor, to develop a sound business case before proceeding into its next phase. NASA concurred with GAO's recommendation.

"The GAO's report is a timely reminder of the demanding steps and detailed analyses and information needed to ensure the successful completion of human space flight programs. Constellation is already well down the road to delivering flight hardware under extremely challenging conditions. The choice is clear: either we give the Constellation program the funding it needs so the dedicated men and women of NASA and its contractor team can successfully do their jobs, or we let our lack of commitment fritter away all that has been accomplished to date," added Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee Chairwoman Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ).

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