Space Shuttle:

Upgrade Activities and Carryover Balances

T-NSIAD-98-21: Published: Oct 1, 1997. Publicly Released: Oct 1, 1997.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO discussed the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) space shuttle program, focusing on: (1) the effect of a funding transfer from the Space Shuttle program to the International Space Station Program on major shuttle upgrade projects and the status of those projects; (2) the role carryover balances had in the transfer and in funding upgrades; and (3) funding for future upgrades.

GAO noted that: (1) the $190-million funding transfer to the space station program did not adversely impact current or near-term upgrade projects; (2) four current projects, which account for about 91 percent of the total funding provided for upgrade activities in fiscal year 1997, could not have used the transfer funds; (3) even though they experienced technical problems and associated schedule slips, the projects' financial reserves were sufficient to fund the problems experienced; (4) the transfer funds were also not needed for supportability upgrades because they began more slowly than planned due to a longer-than-anticipated approval process; (5) as a result, only about $40 million of the $70 million in funds allocated in fiscal year 1997 to the new supportability upgrade effort will be used--the remainder will carry over to support fiscal year 1998 activities; (6) the $190 million transferred to the space program was available because of the large amount of carryover within the shuttle program; (7) without the transfer, the shuttle program would have had about a $600-million budget carryover at the end of fiscal year 1997; (8) however, shuttle program managers estimated that they would need only $395 million in carryover at that time; (9) NASA has used carryover to fund upgrades in the past and plans to continue doing so in the future; (10) NASA designated $70 million in fiscal year 1996 carryover funds to initiate the new supportability upgrade effort, and it plans to use another $95 million for this purpose in fiscal year 1998; (11) depending on the future upgrades selected, costs could range from hundreds of millions to several billions of dollars; (12) NASA is defining an upgrade program to keep the shuttle a viable space transportation system at least through the planned mission life of the space station about 2013; (13) other planning assumptions include increasing the shuttle's flight rate from about 8 to 15 times a year, obtaining other customers, and operating the shuttle to 2030; (14) in addition to annual funding requests for safety and performance upgrades and the continued use of excess carryover, NASA plans to use any savings that are generated within the shuttle program to fund its upgrade activities; (15) the extent to which these sources will be available in the future is uncertain; (16) funding needs for future upgrades will be driven by a number of questions related to such issues as how long the shuttle will be required and whether viable alternatives can be developed to support space station operations and other human space flight requirements.

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