Long-term planning

An article in Wednesday’ edition of the Capitol Hill newspaper The Hill dropped a hint about the long-term plans for one of the few staunch space advocates in the Senate. In the article about shuffling of the Republican leadership in the Senate in the wake of Trent Lott’s surprise retirement, the article notes that Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, who is currently the No. 4 Republican in the Senate as chair of the Republican Policy Committee, is considering running for the No. 3 position, conference chairman, should the current chairman, Jon Kyl, move up to Lott’s vacated position of minority whip. The article adds in passing that Hutchison “is said to be eyeing a gubernatorial bid in 2010.”

It’s not the first time that Hutchison has been rumored to be leaving the Senate to be governor. In late 2005 and early 2006 Hutchison was openly mulling a challenge to incumbent governor Rick Perry in the Republican primary; she decided instead to run for reelection to the Senate, which she won easily. A move from the Senate to the statehouse would deprive NASA and its supporters with one of the few strong advocates for the agency in the Senate.

7 comments to Long-term planning

  • I don’t think much would change for NASA if Hutchison gave up her seat on NASA’s oversight subcommittee in the Senate. In fact, the agency might have a shot at getting a better, more effective advocate.

    Even with the help of a powerful appropriator in Mikulski, Hutchison’s support of a $1 billion increase for NASA has been wasted on an ineffectual, ill-conceived legislative effort for two years in a row now. And Hutchison’s own signature legislation to designate the ISS as a “national lab” has turned out to be little more than a name change, with no accompanying funding commitments from other federal research agencies and a thin, limp-wristed report that only promises to explore a few potential future agreements. And Hutchison’s strategy for addressing the gap is just plain unimaginative and wrong, advocating either more taxpayer dollars for Ares I/Orion projects that are drowning in technical problems and slipping schedules, or extending dangerous Shuttle operations that would only push out the gap and risk more astronaut lives. Maybe someone else will remember something that I’m forgetting, but I’m at a loss to point to anything substantively positive that Hutchison has achieved for NASA.

    No doubt Hutchison’s seat would be filled by another Senator representing a NASA field center. I don’t know the likely candidates off hand, but NASA appears to have nothing to lose if Hutchison leaves, and might wind up better off with a different, more effective minority lead on that subcommittee.


  • Al Fansome


    I agree.

    My impression of Hutchison is that she is a light-weight, and mostly talk. Which is the normal state of being for most Members of Congress. I can’t point to anything that demonstrates that she has been effective at producing results for Texas’ positions on space.

    Texas at least has a chance to do better with a different person sitting in her seat.

    – Al

  • “advocating either more taxpayer dollars for Ares I/Orion projects that are drowning in technical problems and slipping schedules”

    Just to follow up on this thought, GAO released a fairly damaging report on Ares I today (add http://):

    Among the observations:

    “NASA has not yet established firm requirements or developed mature technologies, a preliminary design, or realistic cost estimates, or determined the ultimate time and money needed to complete the program [Ares I] and so is not in a position to make informed investment decisions.”

    “While NASA still has 10 months to close [the aforementioned] gaps in knowledge, it will be challenged to do so.”

    “For the Ares I program, 14 of the project’s self-identified risk factors are tied to unstable requirements—many of which are interrelated between Ares I and Orion projects.”

    “Both the Orion and Ares I vehicles have a history of weight and mass growth, and NASA is still defining the mass, loads, and weight requirements for both vehicles.”

    “a design analysis cycle completed in May 2007 revealed an unexpected increase in ascent loads (the physical strain on the spacecraft during launch) that could result in increases to the weight of the Orion vehicle and both stages of the Ares I.”

    “Requirements instability is also increasing risk for the individual elements of the Ares I.”

    “NASA has not yet matured guidance, navigation, and control requirements for the upper stage subsystems. According to an agency official, these requirements cannot be finalized until mass, loads and weight requirements are finalized. Since these requirements are not expected to be provided until just 2 ½ months prior to the upper stage preliminary design review process start, there is a possibility that the system requirements review design concepts will be highly affected once requirements are received.”

    “Requirements instability also contributed to NASA’s inability to definitize design, development, and test and evaluation contracts for both the first stage and upper stage engine until August and July 2007 respectively—more than a year after the contracts were awarded.”

    “Adding the fifth segment and the frustum has increased the length and flexibility of the reusable solid rocket booster. It is currently unclear how the modification will affect the flight characteristics of the reusable solid rocket booster. Failure to completely understand the flight characteristic of the modified booster could create a risk of hardware failure and loss of vehicle control.”

    “there is also a possibility that the reusable solid rocket booster heritage hardware may not meet qualification requirements given the new ascent and re-entry loads and vibration and acoustic environments associated with the Ares I. This could result in cost and schedule impacts due to redesign and requalification efforts.”

    “the added weight of the fifth segment to the boosters is forcing the contractor to push the state of the art in developing a parachute recovery system.”

    “In January 2007, an independent review of the first stage development questioned the cost-effectiveness of continuing with a reusable booster design… NASA may need to consider expendable first stage options given the weight issues associated with both the Ares I and Orion vehicles. If NASA opts to pursue an expendable solution for the first stage, the overall Ares I design and requirements could change dramatically.”

    “NASA’s development effort for the Ares I upper stage has resulted in the redesign of its propellant tanks from two completely separate tanks to two tanks with one shared, or common, bulkhead. While the prior two-tank configuration was a simpler design with a lower manufacturing cost, it did not meet mass requirements. The current common bulkhead design involves a complex and problematic manufacturing process that plagued earlier development efforts on the Apollo program. In fact, IRMA indicates that one of the lessons learned from the Apollo program was to not use common bulkheads because they are complex and difficult to manufacture.”

    “there is a possibility that upper stage subsystems will not meet the Constellation program’s requirements for human rating unless the Constellation program grants waivers to failure tolerance requirements. NASA’s human rating directive generally requires that human spaceflight hardware be “two-failure tolerant,” that is, the system should be designed to tolerate two component failures or inadvertent actions without resulting in permanent disability or loss of life. According to Ares I project officials, NASA’s directive allows the use of ascent abort in response to a second failure during launch; however, Constellation program requirements do not allow abort and require Ares I to reach orbit even if there are two failures.”

    “Although the J-2X is based on the J-2 and J-2S engines used on the Saturn V, and leverages knowledge from the X-33 and RS-68, the extent of planned changes is such that both the ESAS and Ares I standing review boards reported that the effort essentially represents a new engine development. The scope of required changes is so broad, the contractor estimates that it will need nearly 5 million hours to complete design, development, test, and evaluation activities for the J-2X upper stage engine… According to Pratt and Whitney Rocketdyne representatives, these design changes will result in the replacement and/or modification of virtually every part derived from the J-2 or J-2S designs.”

    “Pratt and Whitney Rocketdyne is also redesigning turbo-pumps from the X-33 program that feed fuel and oxidizer into a newly configured main combustion chamber, to increase engine thrust to 294,000 pounds—the J-2S had 265,000 pounds of thrust. The element also faces significant schedule risks in developing and manufacturing a carbon composite nozzle extension in order to satisfy these thrust requirements. According to contractor officials, the extension is more than 2 feet—i.e., about one-third—wider in diameter than existing nozzles.”

    “the J-2X development effort is accorded less than 7 years from development start to first flight. In comparison, the Space Shuttle main engine, the only other human-rated liquid-fuel engine NASA has successfully flown since the Apollo program, development required 9 years… If the engine does not complete development as scheduled, subsequent flight testing might be delayed. The J-2X development effort represents a critical path for the Ares I project. Subsequently, delays in the J-2X schedule for design, development, test, and evaluation would have a ripple effect throughout the entire Ares I project.”

    These are the things that folks like Hutchison on NASA oversight committees should be paying attention to and forcing the agency to find alternatives for. It boggles the mind that we’re still chasing our tails on Ares I when the U.S. has working launch vehicles in that weight class in the existing fleet.


  • thinking ahead

    It boggles the mind that we’re still chasing our tails on Ares I when the U.S. has working launch vehicles in that weight class in the existing fleet.

    But it didn’t boggle your mind much back in late September of 2005, did it.

    You really are a one trick pony. Well, better late than never, or so they say.

  • “But it didn’t boggle your mind much back in late September of 2005, did it.”

    I think you have me confused with a certain Mike Griffin. Or one of the members of Congress that voted for the NASA authorization bill that was passed that month.

    I hate to disappoint your delusions of my grandeur, but I’m neither.

    “You really are a one trick pony. Well, better late than never, or so they say.”

    Just keep trolling and throwing those insults with provocation. Eventually you’ll forget your meds long enough to start with the epithets and get banned again.

    Actually, maybe throwing insults at other posters without provocation is enough to get banned again, especially for a repeat offender.

    Tuning out of this conversation, too.


  • itchy scratchy


    Whatever you say. You can ban the messengers, but you can’t ban the truth.

    It’s going to be some very expensive entertainment watching this drag on for yet another year, with two years of this nonsense already under our belts.

    You are a latecomer to the party Miss Anonymous Space, and you are saying nothing that most of us haven’t already known for over two full years here.

  • […] follow up on a note last week about Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison’s long-term plans, the newspaper The Politico reported today that Hutchison will not seek the No. 3 position among […]

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