NASA underestimated cost of space station by billions, GAO says

May 02, 1991|By Knight-Ridder News Service

WASHINGTON -- NASA underestimated the possible cost of the redesigned space station over the next decade by as much as $10 billion to $20 billion, congressional investigators said yesterday on the eve of a House vote on 1992 spending for the project.

Last month the National Aeronautics and Space Administration said the scaled-back Space Station Freedom would cost $30 billion. More than $4.5 billion of that already has been spent on preliminary planning and design.

While NASA has declined to forecast costs over the expected 30-year life of the controversial project, the total could reach $118 billion to $180 billion, according to estimates from the General Accounting Office and staff analysts for the House Government Operations Committee.

The skyrocketing estimates angered Representative Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., who chaired an oversight hearing that occasionally grew heated.

"The hard-working people of this country deserve to know precisely how much of their tax dollars are going toward the space station program," Ms. Boxer said. NASA needs "a reality check," she said.

NASA Administrator Richard H. Truly insisted that the agency wasn't trying to hide anything.

But he admitted that the $30 billion estimate excluded such costs as those of the scientific experiments the station is to carry, development of an emergency return vehicle for station astronauts and the long-term operational costs of servicing the project with shuttle flights.

Some of those costs aren't yet known, Mr. Truly said.

Representative Dick Zimmer, R-N.J., said he would offer an amendment to the NASA authorization bill on the House floor today that would require a study of the scientific value of the space station.

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