The Columbia tragedy has accentuated the need to modernize the 20-year-old space shuttle, the only U.S. launch system that carries people to and from space. The shuttle will now be needed for another two decades. As it ages, the spacecraft's components will also age, and it may become increasingly unreliable. GAO examined the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) plans to upgrade the shuttle through 2020, how it will identify and select what upgrades are needed, how much the upgrades may cost, and what factors will influence that cost over the system's lifetime.
Recommendations for Executive Action
|National Aeronautics and Space Administration||1. To strengthen the agency's efforts to modernize the space shuttle, the NASA Administrator should fully define the requirements for all elements of the ISTP so that those responsible for identifying, selecting, and prioritizing shuttle upgrades will have the guidance and a sound basis to ensure their decisions on upgrade projects are completely integrated with all other elements of the transportation plan. In particular, the Administrator should determine, in conjunction with its international partners, the ultimate life and mission of the ISS in order to provide a sound basis for fully defining shuttle requirements.|
|National Aeronautics and Space Administration||2. To strengthen the agency's efforts to modernize the space shuttle, the NASA Administrator should develop and consistently apply a clear measurable metric to show the relationship of upgrade investments to an increase in shuttle operational life and/or safety for the entire space shuttle system. NASA's Quantitative Risk Assessment System could be a basis for such a metric since it is intended to measure the safety improvement of a single upgrade project.|
|National Aeronautics and Space Administration||3. To strengthen the agency's efforts to modernize the space shuttle, the NASA Administrator should continue to pursue development of analytic tools and metrics to help assure that SLEP program officials have accurate, reliable, and timely quantifiable information to complement their professional judgment.|
|National Aeronautics and Space Administration||4. To strengthen the agency's efforts to modernize the space shuttle, the NASA Administrator should develop a total cost estimate for all upgrades through 2020 by updating the current rough order of magnitude estimate to include new projects resulting from the CAIB recommendations, estimates of project life-cycle costs, and estimates of major potential projects, such as a crew escape system, so that the resources needed to fund shuttle upgrades can be ascertained.|