The International Space Station (ISS) Program has named Kirk Shireman as its new manager, following the departure of Mike Suffredini. The news came hours after NASA administrator Charlie Bolden modified the Agency’s contract with Roscosmos, to the tune of an extra $490m, to cover projected delays to the Commercial Crew Program.
New ISS Chief:
Mr. Shireman – who joined NASA in 1985 – is no stranger to the inner workings of the ISS Program, having served as deputy ISS program manager from 2006 to 2013.
He then moved into the position of deputy center director at the Johnson Space Center.
He also served as the chair of the ISS Mission Management Team (IMMT) after managing several of its subsystem offices, and managed multiple offices for the Space Shuttle Program.
“Kirk brings considerable space station experience to this new leadership role. He will manage the overall development, integration and operation of the program,” noted Bill Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate.
“As program manager, Kirk will work directly with international partners to ensure safe and reliable operation of the orbiting laboratory, and foster continued scientific research that benefits humanity and helps prepare the agency for its journey to Mars.”
Mr. Shireman replaces the highly respected Mike Suffredini, who is leaving NASA to take up a role in the private sector.
Mr. Suffredini announced his departure to an All-Hands meeting at JSC on Wednesday, which was noted to include an emotional farewell speech, followed by a standing ovation from those in attendance.
“During Mike’s tenure, the international project successfully completed construction and transitioned into a fully functional microgravity laboratory,” Mr. Gerstenmaier added. “Under his leadership, the station opened avenues for a new commercial marketplace in space and established a platform for groundbreaking research.”
Mr. Suffredini joined NASA in 1989, working his way up to become the ISS program manager in 2005.
He was deeply involved with the major task of ISS assembly, working alongside both the Shuttle Program and international partners.
Known as a hugely respected problem solver, Mr. Suffredini oversaw the successful transition of the orbital outpost into its utilization phase and guided the Station through a number of technical challenges that are also providing a knowledge base for NASA’s future goals of long-duration deep space exploration.
Mr. Suffredini also welcomed an array of new vehicles to the Station, as the logistical challenges associated with replacing the superior capability of the Shuttle – with a fleet of international and commercial “Visiting Vehicles” – were ably balanced to allow the Station to continue to operate even during the unprecedented impact of three resupply vehicles failing in quick succession.
He also began the process to prepare the Station for the arrival of the first crewmembers to launch on a commercial vehicle. However, as to when that milestone will actually occur continues to be at the mercy of lawmakers.
Soyuz Support Extension:
The continuing Catch 22 scenario of fully funding the Commercial Crew Program versus paying Roscosmos for seats on the Russian Soyuz to bridge the ever-increasing gap in NASA’s crew launch capability is not being helped by the uncertainty in the funding levels allocated by Congress.
Since the retirement of the Space Shuttle, the initial plan was to regain US domestic launch capability for NASA astronauts by around 2015.
That push towards the Commercial Crew Program’s Full Operational Capability (FOC) milestone has since slipped to at least the end of 2017.
NASA also plans to pay for Soyuz support during the early phase of the Commercial Crew era as back-up – required to ensure a continued US presence on the ISS.
However, the amount of additional funding that has been paid to Roscosmos over recent years would have likely been enough to fully fund CCP in the first place. This would have reduced the projected schedule and allowed Commercial Crew to become part of the ISS budget line sooner.
As such, lawmakers are unlikely to have saved any real money via their penny pinching of Commercial Crew funding allocations. What they have achieved is to divert US taxpayer money from America’s space industry to Russia.
“Unfortunately, for five years now, the Congress, while incrementally increasing annual funding, has not adequately funded the Commercial Crew Program to return human spaceflight launches to American soil this year, as planned,” wrote General Bolden in an open letter to Congress.
“This has resulted in continued sole reliance on the Russian Soyuz spacecraft as our crew transport vehicle for American and international partner crews to the ISS.”
“I am writing to inform you that NASA, once again, has modified its current contract with the Russian government to meet America’s requirements for crew transportation services. Under this contract modification, the cost of these services to the U.S. taxpayers will be approximately $490 million.”
NASA is currently funding two primary contractors via the ongoing Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) contract.
These missions are scheduled to open with uncrewed test flights to the ISS as soon as December 2016 (Dragon 2 – SpX-DM1). Crewed missions will follow in 2017, per the current manifest outlook.
However, General Bolden warned lawmakers that the continued stranglehold on funding may result in milestone renegotiations and schedule slips.
“The fastest path to bringing these new systems online, launching from America, and ending our sole reliance on Russia is fully funding NASA’s Commercial Crew Program in FY 2016. Our Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) contractors are on track today to provide certified crew transportation systems in 2017.
“Reductions from the FY 2016 request for Commercial Crew proposed in the House and Senate FY 2016 Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies appropriations bills would result in NASA’s inability to fund several planned CCtCap milestones in FY 2016 and would likely result in funds running out for both contractors during the spring/summer of FY 2016.
“If this occurs, the existing fixed-price CCtCap contracts may need to be renegotiated, likely resulting in further schedule slippage and increased cost.”
General Bolden called on all lawmakers to come together and support the Commercial Crew Program, specifically urging Congress to provide the funds requested for CCP this year, “so we can prevent this situation (more money to Roscosmos) in the future”.
“I am asking that we put past disagreements behind us and focus our collective efforts on support for American industry – the Boeing Corporation and SpaceX – to complete construction and certification of their crew vehicles so that we can begin launching our crews from the Space Coast of Florida in 2017.”
(Images: via NASA, Boeing and L2 Sections, including renderings created by L2 Artist Nathan Koga.)
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