House Science, Space, and Technology Committee Hearing: “ISS and Beyond: The Present and Future of American Low-Earth Orbit Activities” 

U.S. House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology  

Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics Hearing  

“ISS and Beyond: The Present and Future of American Low-Earth Orbit Activities” 

Wednesday, February 14, 2024 

Watch the Hearing  


The U.S. House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology’s Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics held a hearing entitled “ISS and Beyond: The Present and Future of American Low-Earth Orbit Activities” on Wednesday, February 14, 2024. The purpose of the hearing was to examine NASA’s current activities and future strategies in low-Earth orbit (LEO), focusing on the end-of-life strategy for the International Space Station (ISS) and Commercial LEO Destination (CLD) program. During the hearing, the witnesses focused on the role of LEO scientific research in supporting future exploration missions to the Moon and Mars, underscored the strategic importance of sustaining human presence in space amidst competition from China, highlighted the necessity of developing the United States Deorbit Vehicle (USDV), and discussed the importance of fostering a commercial LEO economy. More information. 

Key Highlights  

  • NASA reaffirmed its intention to retire the ISS by 2030 and transition LEO activities to CLDs without gaps or interruptions.  
  • Witnesses stressed the urgency of setting an end-of-life date for the ISS to bolster commercial market viability and investor confidence. 
  • Budget certainty was highlighted as critical for meeting NASA’s objectives, including retiring the ISS and advancing CLD development. 
  • Witnesses expressed concerns regarding mission authorization, particularly regarding the regulation of CLDs, and highlighted apprehensions about the proposed split regulatory responsibilities outlined in the White House proposal.
  • The Subcommittee plans to conduct another hearing focused on NASA’s Science Mission Directorate next month. 


  • Mr. Kenneth Bowersox, Associate Administrator, Space Operations Mission Directorate, National Aeronautics and Space Administration 
  • Dr. Mary Lynne Dittmar, Chief Government and External Relations Officer, Axiom Space 
  • Dr. Robert J. Ferl, Co-Chair, Committee on Biological and Physical Sciences in Space, The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine 
  • Mr. Dylan Taylor, Chairman and CEO, Voyager Space 

Opening Statements   

Full Committee Ranking Member Zoe Lofgren (D-CA)

In her opening statement, Ranking Member Lofgren acknowledged the need for Congress to address risks associated with transitioning space activities to non-governmental entities, stressing clarity on liability and financial responsibility. She highlighted the importance of maintaining government-funded research post-ISS and voiced concerns about budgetary challenges jeopardizing America’s space leadership, particularly in light of China’s advancements in space. Read the Full Statement.    

Subcommittee Chairman Brian Babin (R-TX)

In his opening statement, Chairman Babin emphasized the competitive landscape in LEO, highlighting China’s Tiangong Space Station and the risk of it becoming the sole human-occupied station for LEO research if an alternative commercial station is not operational post-ISS retirement. Chairman Babin stressed the importance of the hearing’s discussion in informing the Subcommittee’s efforts toward crafting the upcoming NASA Authorization bill. Read the Full Statement.   

Subcommittee Ranking Member Eric Sorensen (D-IL)

In his opening statement, Ranking Member Sorensen commended the long-standing success of the ISS, emphasizing its critical role in scientific research and future Mars exploration. He highlighted the need for urgent action to ensure the ISS’s continued operation until its planned deorbiting in 2030, highlighting the importance of replacing aging space suits and developing the USDV. Read the Full Statement.   

Witness Testimony  

Mr. Kenneth Bowersox, Associate Administrator, Space Operations Mission Directorate, National Aeronautics and Space Administration 

In his testimony, Mr. Bowersox outlined NASA’s plans for the ISS’s safe deorbit by 2030 and the transition to commercial space stations post-ISS. He discussed NASA’s collaborations with industry partners to develop CLDs and emphasized the agency’s commitment to maintaining uninterrupted human presence in LEO while fostering groundbreaking research and commercial activities. Read the Full Statement.   

Dr. Mary Lynne Dittmar, Chief Government and External Relations Officer, Axiom Space 

In her testimony, Dr. Dittmar urged Congress to take immediate action to ensure the continuous American human presence in LEO in order to maintain global competitiveness and prevent adversaries like China from jeopardizing American leadership in space exploration. Dr. Dittmar presented several recommendations to the Subcommittee to facilitate an orderly transition, including inserting clear language in a new NASA Authorization Act to affirm the commitment to maintaining American presence in LEO, authorizing funding for the ISS program at least at the 2023 level by 2025, and allocating funds for USDV. She also proposed authorizing the continued operation of the ISS through 2030, with possible extensions until a commercial station becomes operational, and allocating $295 million in funding for the CLD program. Additionally, Dr. Dittmar stressed the importance of prompt down-selection to a minimum of two CLD companies by NASA to ensure operational capabilities before the ISS retirement. Read the Full Statement.   

Dr. Robert J. Ferl, Co-Chair, Committee on Biological and Physical Sciences in Space, The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine 

In his testimony, Dr. Ferl emphasized the critical importance of advancing biological and physical sciences research in space, highlighting its relevance for both exploration and practical applications on Earth. He elaborated on the Biological and Physical Sciences in Space Decadal Survey, underscoring the need for sustained funding and focused research campaigns to uphold America’s leadership and support long-term exploration goals. Dr. Ferl outlined two research campaigns proposed by the survey, BLiSS, and MATRICES, aimed at addressing challenges related to sustaining life and manufacturing materials in space. Read the Full Statement.   

Mr. Dylan Taylor, Chairman and CEO, Voyager Space

In his testimony, Mr. Taylor asserts the critical need for budget and regulatory certainty in the development of novel space activities, particularly with respect to CLDs like Starlab. He urged Congress to provide firm commitments, increased funding, and support for NASA’s transition plan to CLD platforms. He advocates for a unified authorization framework for novel space activities, proposing a “one-stop shop” model to streamline regulatory processes and foster competitiveness among U.S. companies. Additionally, he highlighted challenges faced by CLD providers in obtaining sufficient insurance coverage and navigating liability issues and urged Congress to explore solutions to ensure program success. He also highlights the competitive landscape, warning that allied nations may have no option but to utilize China’s Tiangong Space Station if no alternative is provided, endangering U.S. leadership. Read the Full Statement.   

Question & Answer  

  • In response to a question by Chairman Babin, Mr. Bowersox outlined that key elements for CLD transition include the establishment of new private space stations, the development of the USDV, and continued utilization of the ISS until 2030. While exploring alternative options for retiring the ISS, a decision was reached that deorbiting the ISS was the most favorable course of action. The expenses associated with deorbiting the ISS will be distributed among partner nations according to used mass. 
  • In response to a question by Ranking Member Sorensen, Dr. Dittmar stated that Axiom’s private astronaut missions (PAMs) stimulate international and nongovernmental interest in human spaceflight, thus expanding the overall space market. Mr. Taylor echoed this sentiment, underscoring the “huge international demand” for private human spaceflight capabilities. He further stated that rather than solely addressing existing demand, private space stations are poised to generate additional demand, given current limitations on astronauts’ time for experimentation aboard the ISS. Mr. Taylor also cited the burgeoning demand for experimentation in LEO from the biopharmaceuticals industry.  
  • In response to a question by Rep. Bill Posey (R-FL), Mr. Bowersox stated that NASA would like to see improvement in the facilities and capacity of the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) and that potential legislative changes would allow NASA to take resource investment from private partners to support improvements at KSC. During a related line of questioning on utilizing foreign launch capabilities, Mr. Bowersox stated that NASA has no current concrete plans to do so.  
  • In response to a question by Rep. Posey, there was consensus amongst the witnesses that intellectual property aboard space stations is critical, and that due regard should be paid to protecting intellectual property when there are multiple actors within one station. Mr. Taylor said that there would be no Chinese activity on Starlab in response to threats to intellectual property.  
  • In response to a question by Chairman Frank Lucas (R-OK), Mr. Bowersox outlined NASA’s strategy to serve as an ‘anchor tenant’ aboard CLDs, with the intention to stimulate the market and then gradually reduce its own role as a customer over time. Mr. Taylor expanded on this, suggesting that the European Space Agency (ESA), the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) could also potentially serve as anchor tenants. 
  • In a response to a question by Rep. Rich McCormick (R-GA), Dr. Dittmar expressed concerns regarding the bifurcated nature of the White House mission authorization proposal, specifically noting the split regulatory responsibilities between the Department of Transportation and the Department of Commerce and the potential delays that could result from interagency coordination. She emphasized the importance of streamlining regulatory frameworks and agreed that it would be more beneficial for the industry to engage with a single government entity serving as a “one-stop shop.” 
  • In response to a question by Rep. Daniel Webster (R-FL), Dr. Dittmar contended that the lack of a definite end-of-life date for the ISS hinders the commercial development of LEO by introducing uncertainty for investors. She recommended keeping the ISS operational until a commercial alternative is viable. Mr. Bowersox reiterated NASA’s commitment to initiating the deorbiting of the ISS in 2030, noting that Russia is committed to supporting ISS operations until 2028 primarily due to their budget cycle.  
  • In response to a question by Chairman Babin, Mr. Bowersox discussed mechanical concerns with respect to the Russian segments of the ISS, emphasizing the strong cooperation between NASA and Roscosmos on these issues. He stated the Russian modules are providing valuable data regarding spacecraft aging. When speaking about the recent coolant leak on the Russian module, he stated that “the orbital debris environment is something that’s a big issue for all of us, including our Russian colleagues.” 
  • Ranking Member Lofgren entered The ‘Wild West’ of Space Research, an article from Aerospace America, into the congressional record. 

An archive of previous hearing coverage is available here.