Skip to comments.Agencies tally Columbia costs - Price tag tops $380 million
Posted on 08/13/2003 7:16:34 PM PDT by anymouse
Cleaning up the remains of space shuttle Columbia and investigating why it fell out of the sky will cost taxpayers more than $380 million, according to figures from the government agencies involved.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency, the lead agency dealing with the Feb. 1 disaster that killed seven astronauts, expects to spend more than $228 million on the accident, said Kim Pease, a Denton-based spokesman for the agency.
FEMA, which now is part of the Homeland Security Department, coordinated the search and recovery operation, working with NASA, the U.S. Forest Service, the Environmental Protection Agency and the departments of Transportation and Defense as well as other federal, state and local agencies.
They recovered the astronauts' remains shortly after the accident and spent more than three months -- assisted by thousands of volunteers -- collecting and cataloguing more than 82,500 pieces of shuttle debris, or about 40 percent of the orbiter's original weight.
"We had more than 16,500 people marching across a good portion of East Texas and parts of Louisiana searching for shuttle debris," Pease said. "We had boats searching the lakes and divers in the water. We had helicopters and we had fixed-wing aircraft. The vast majority of the money -- 95 cents on every dollar -- will go toward that recovery effort."
The remaining 5 cents per dollar is earmarked to reimburse local police, fire and sheriff's departments in several Texas and Louisiana counties for their work in securing and guarding debris until it could be tagged and picked up, as well as controlling traffic and crowds of spectators, Pease said.
In addition to the FEMA funds, NASA expects to spend at least $133.7 million in the accident's aftermath, said Melissa Motichek, a spokeswoman at the space agency's Washington headquarters.
About $21.8 million of that total goes toward the debris search and recovery effort, including $1.1 million in travel costs, she said. The remaining $111.9 million will pay for work NASA personnel did and costs the space agency absorbed in support of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board.
The latter figure includes an estimated $4 million spent to build a replica of the shuttle's left wing and conduct tests at San Antonio's Southwest Research Institute.
The 13-member CAIB, appointed by NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe to determine the cause of the accident, used that testing to confirm its theory that foam insulation shed from the shuttle's external fuel tank struck the orbiter on liftoff Jan. 16, causing enough damage to break the spacecraft apart in the searing heat of re-entry 16 days later.
The CAIB, which plans to release its final report later this month, expects to spend about $19.8 million on the investigation, said Laura Brown, the board's spokeswoman.
About $1 million of that total is to pay for salaries and benefits of board members and NASA personnel who have been directly involved in working with the board, Brown said.
Close to $2 million is earmarked for travel costs, and the remaining $16.8 million will pay for consulting fees to outside experts hired by the board and contract employees who helped reconstruct the debris at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, as well as document processing, computer support, office space rentals, and printing and copying the final report, she said.
The CAIB and NASA costs will be offset in part by $50 million in emergency funds approved by Congress shortly after the accident.
A second $50 million installment was included in a supplemental budget request, but the House stripped it out shortly before approving NASA's $15.5 billion fiscal year 2004 budget just before its summer break. The Senate will take up the budget bill this fall.
NASA spokesman Allard Beutel said some of the agency's costs also will be offset by about $32 million in savings from two shuttle missions that had been planned for this year but did not take place because the shuttle fleet has been grounded. That figure accounts for savings in fuel costs and overtime pay at Kennedy Space Center.
The agency also may save money on future missions that were already budgeted but won't go off as scheduled simply because the fleet now is one shuttle short, he said.
Any additional funds needed to pay for the Columbia aftermath and for return-to-flight activities will come either from NASA's regular shuttle program budget or from future congressional appropriations.
The biggest budget question mark is how much NASA will need to get ready for its next shuttle launch, tentatively planned for as early as next spring. Before then, the agency will have to redesign parts of the three remaining spacecraft, install new cameras on the launchpad at KSC and revamp training for the astronauts and those who remain on Earth as their safety net.
Motichek said the cost of those improvements is still being tallied and will be included in the space agency's budget request for fiscal year 2005.
She declined to provide a ballpark cost estimate before then, saying much will depend on the CAIB's final report.
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