Space Shuttle:

Declining Budget and Tight Schedule Could Jeopardize Space Station Support

NSIAD-95-171: Published: Jul 28, 1995. Publicly Released: Aug 17, 1995.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO examined the extent to which the space shuttle program can support the space station's assembly requirements, focusing on the: (1) impacts of the declining shuttle budget; and (2) demanding schedule to support the space station.

GAO found that: (1) the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) plans for increasing the shuttle's lift capability are complex and involve about 30 individual actions such as hardware redesigns, improved flight design techniques, and new operational procedures; (2) some of the hardware redesign programs have experienced early development problems, and the potential exists for additional problems; (3) the NASA schedule for meeting the space station's launch requirements appears questionable in the declining budget environment; (4) NASA must successfully complete numerous shuttle-related development programs on a tight schedule to support the first space station launch; (5) the remaining launch schedule is compressed and will be difficult to achieve without additional funding or more efficient processing methods; (6) delays in the launch schedule could substantially increase the station's cost; (7) NASA plans to forgo some of the shuttle's recertification activities and full integration testing of the propulsion system until the first launch of station components; (8) NASA plans to assess the implications of the design changes through a combination of tanking and component tests and systems analyses; and (9) NASA must ensure that the implications of integrating numerous individual design changes are fully understood and safety is not compromised.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In July 1996, the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) asked NASA to review the impact that the agency's downsizing plans and transition to a single prime contractor for shuttle operations have had or will have on shuttle safety issues. The three issues GAO raised in this report were mentioned in this OSTP request. Subsequently, NASA asked its Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel (ASAP) to perform the requested review. The ASAP's report was issued in November 1996.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, NASA, should establish an independent review team to assess the NASA systems integration plan for the lift-increasing enhancements, identify the associated technical and programmatic risks, and weigh the costs and benefits of NASA tight scheduling of shuttle flights to assemble the space station.

    Agency Affected: National Aeronautics and Space Administration


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