Friday, 24 January 1992 Washington, DC
1. JOHN DINGELL IS BACK IN TOWN--AND A LOT OF FOLKS ARE
Rep. John Dingell (D-MI), the scourge of loose
cost accounting, will hold new hearings next Tuesday on indirect
cost abuses by universities. Only government witnesses are
scheduled to testify at the hearings; they are expected to reveal
new audits that will implicate just about every university that
conducts government research. At issue is whether the federal
government can demand reimbursement of payments made under the
terms of Memoranda of Understanding signed by its own agents.
The contention is that MOUs were based on incorrect information
supplied by the schools.
2. THE SPACE SCIENCE COMMUNITY INCHES TOWARD PRIORITY
The Space Studies Board of the National Academy of
Sciences held a symposium this morning at which it revealed a
task force report on Setting Priorities for Space Research. The
report argues that priority statements by the space research
community are necessary and desirable. If that seems less than
revolutionary, someone from NASA said it wasn't needed--NASA
already has a panel to set priorities. In any case, this was
just "phase one"; phase two will tell us how to do it. The high
point was a thoughtful and eloquent talk on the need for priority
setting by Rep. George Brown (D-CA), Chair of the House Science,
Space and Technology Committee. Brown departed from his prepared
remarks to comment that, "It is possible to envision a healthy
space science program without the space station--and perhaps
without the shuttle."
3. EACH SHUTTLE FLIGHT IN FY 92 IS EXPECTED TO COST $500
Space shuttle Discovery was launched Wednesday on
a "scientific" mission to find out if slime mold can thrive in
the absence of gravity and to examine "astronaut back-ache"
caused by elongation of the spine in weightlessness, along with
some 52 other equally important experiments. It is expensive
information; according to a General Accounting Office report, the
shuttle program accounts for more than one-fourth of NASA's FY 92
budget of $14.3B. The FY 92 shuttle manifest calls for only
seven flights, which works out to over $500M per flight--if they
all come off. NASA has not achieved its projected launch rate in
any previous year.
4. NASA HAD ORIGINALLY PLANNED ON SIXTY SHUTTLE LAUNCHES PER
at $50M each. NASA now hopes to reach ten per year by
the end of the decade. Noting that problems can be expected to
increase as the shuttle fleet ages, the GAO report questions
whether NASA can achieve a rate of even 10 launches per year.
Failure to increase launch rates would threaten viability of some
science missions. About 80% of the missions on the pre-Challenger
shuttle manifest were cancelled or launched on unmanned vehicles.
At least 17 launches will be needed to assemble Freedom and
perhaps 6 per year to maintain it. Meanwhile, NASA plans to cut
4,000 shuttle jobs over the next five years to free up more money
for Freedom. NASA officials insist the job cuts will not