Questions Remain on the Costs, Uses, and Risks of the Redesigned Space Station

T-NSIAD-91-26: Published: May 1, 1991. Publicly Released: May 1, 1991.

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GAO discussed the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) redesigned space station program's costs, financial reserves, affordability, scientific benefits, and technical challenges. GAO noted that: (1) in response to congressional direction, NASA redesigned the space station, and planned to build and test a smaller station largely on the ground and then place it into orbit in segments; (2) NASA estimated permanent occupancy costs of about $30 billion, which did not include program costs attributable to the space station before permanent occupancy or the costs to bring the station to its full capacity and to maintain, supply, and operate it beyond 1999; (3) NASA did not maintain financial reserves commensurate with program risk; (4) significant cost growth could occur during hardware development, which has not yet begun; (5) funding increases that NASA may need to cover cost increases may require funding reductions in other federal programs; (6) although NASA identified eight justifications for the space station program in 1984, it included only one justification involving a microgravity and life science laboratory in its current listing of benefits; (7) technical challenges remaining for the program include shuttle reliability, orbital debris, and the lack of an emergency crew rescue vehicle; and (8) the Administration stated that achieving U.S. preeminence in space exploration, not tangible scientific benefits, was the most important reason for building the space station. GAO believes that it is important that Congress continually examine the space station program's schedule, risk, cost, merit, and affordability.

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