Los Angeles, CA, April 16, 2003 – At the same moment NASA is making plans to possibly shut down the International Space Station due to its inability to re-supply the $70 billion dollar facility, some managers at the agency are trying to gut a program that would solve the problem in years to come. Citing NASA plans to possibly de-staff the ISS due to its inability to ferry supplies to the orbiting facility, the Space Frontier Foundation is calling for NASA Administrator Sean O’Keefe to re-start the agency’s Alternate Access to Station (AAS) program as soon as possible. Slowly being killed behind the scenes, the innovative $310 million dollar program would cost less than one shuttle flight, and was on track to kick start several low cost solutions to the very problem NASA says is causing them to consider shutting down their flagship project.
“Why would the agency shoot itself in the foot by canceling the best hope it has to get low cost freight delivery to and from the station?” asked the Foundation’s Rick Tumlinson. “Why are they trying to do it without anyone noticing? And why now, when they desperately need it?”
The Foundation points out that in the long term the AAS program gives station managers a back-up for the Shuttle and Progress/Soyuz systems that threatens neither. The group believes NASA is making a major mistake that can still be corrected in time to save the ISS’s long term future, and help create a whole new set of U.S. space transportation options for different types of payloads.
“NASA managers with their own agendas must quit playing games with the taxpayer’s money and get this program back on track before it’s too late,” said Tumlinson. “AAS offers a free enterprise means for NASA to buy low cost transportation to ISS that will save millions and, as the name implies, give them an alternative to the systems they use now.” He continued: “If the agency has a funded, low cost possible solution to prevent the slow death of this huge project and doesn’t use it, Mr. O’Keefe and the White House will have to explain it to the American people. He needs to make a call now and do the right thing.”
The AAS program, which had been allocated around 62.7 million for fiscal 2003, had already inspired several entrepreneurial U.S. firms to begin developing low cost ways of delivering freight to the ISS. The Foundation believes it would have helped catalyze a new industry that over time could dramatically lower the cost of all space activities. Members of Congress are calling for the program, which has widespread support outside of the agency, to re-instate the funds and get the program back on track, in light of the Columbia tragedy.