Congress, NASA

Soyuz and Congress

As noted here earlier, the space subcommittee of the House Science and Technology Committee is holding a hearing on the ISS this morning. While it’s not specifically mentioned in the hearing charter, one would expect that committee members would ask NASA’s Bill Gerstenmaier some questions about the Soyuz reentry Saturday that experienced what may be significant problems, especially since NASA is now asking Congress to extend its authority to purchase Soyuz flights beyond 2011.

The Orlando Sentinel reported yesterday that at least one member of Congress is seriously concerned about the Soyuz problem. “I don’t know how to reliably interpret everything they [NASA] are telling me about things like this,” Rep. Dave Weldon (R-FL) told the paper. Weldon, of course, is pushing a bill to keep the shuttle flying after 2010.

The Sentinel article also notes that county commissioners in Brevard County, Florida (home to Cape Canaveral and KSC) “passed a resolution saying ‘resources to be spent on procuring Russian Soyuz#8230; would best be devoted to the development and procurement of domestic crew and cargo logistic capabilities.’” (The county board’s minutes aren’t available this morning.) Not that the Brevard County board has much influence on affairs in Washington…

19 comments to Soyuz and Congress

  • All is fair in love and war, and apparently in politics. If we can use this event to get more money, especially if it’s for COTS, more power to us.

    – Donald

  • I posted a rough transcript of the question section of the hearing

  • Vladislaw

    From the democratic side I got the distinct impression they are really looking at how to promote and do science on the ISS and what money do they need. Both Clinton and Obama have made mention of science. If there is relatively cheap commerical support for ISS resupply versus the shuttle, they can drop constellation or stretch it out and use that money more towards science, since the lab asset is already paid for they can get more bang for the buck in their 4 years then supporting ARES/Orion and not even being able to goto a launch in their first term maybe not even in their second term if it goes to 2016.

  • PolicyGeek

    So the last two Soyuz had the same issues, service module hang-up and ballastic entry. Make you wonder what may happen when the next Soyuz returns in the Fall.

    Question, what would be the political impact if a U.S. Astronaut dies in a Soyuz accident during the Fall election?

  • Vladislaw

    I think that politians would try and make as much political hay out of it as possible. I think there would be a national clarion call for the creation of commerical providers under cots to speed up and or money would go towards closing the gap and maybe even funding of crew escape vehicle.

  • PolicyGeek

    Vladislaw,

    Quite likely. But keep in mind the American on the October Soyuz return will be a space tourist, Richard Garriott, not a NASA astronaut. Which raises an additional set of policy implications.

    Yes, I expect COTS will be looked at, but also Shuttle extension, to close the gap.

  • Anon

    It looks like you stumped the chumps with your question.

    Or its something too horrible for the New Space space tourist industry to even discuss.

  • “‘Question, what would be the political impact if a U.S. Astronaut dies in a Soyuz accident during the Fall election?’

    It looks like you stumped the chumps with your question.

    Or its something too horrible for the New Space space tourist industry to even discuss.”

    The question was about the “political impact” of a Soyuz crew loss, not the commercial impact to an industry.

    FWIW…

  • Anon

    And there is no relation between one and the other?

    If the son of a former astronaut is lost as a space tourist on a Soyuz in the middle of a presidential election you may be sure it will be a political issue that will have commercial impact as well. Especially for those who feel space tourism needs more regulations.

  • Habitat Hermit

    There won’t be much in the way of spectacular television images Anon so it will have minimal impact on the general public. In turn this means that the political impact will be limited to dusty hearings (if that, Soyuz is Russian da? The US can’t regulate Russian vehicles) and some back and forth over at places like here ^_^

    As for space tourism heh if you’re not prepared to die (testament in order, no or little unfinished business etc.) you really shouldn’t go, sort of like skydiving or Mount Everest and so on. Well at least not if you want to conduct yourself in a responsible manner; prepare for the worst and so on. A deadly Soyuz accident would serve as yet another example to show tourists as part of informed consent.

    People will still go and so would I.

  • anonymousspace

    “If the son of a former astronaut is lost as a space tourist on a Soyuz… you may be sure it will be a political issue that will have commercial impact as well.”

    Huh? How would the US Congress influence a hypothetical Russian space tourism regulatory regime, much less the use of Russian national space assets?

    For better or worse, the major U.S. impact of a Soyuz crew loss would be on NASA’s Constellation program. Despite several years and billions of dollars spent, Constellation has still failed to pursue, much less identify, a path to domestic human ISS access capability that can be fielded less than a half decade after the Space Shuttle retires. (And even then, Constellation has only a 2/3rds likelihood of making that schedule, and the schedule is slipping and under serious threat of multi-year delays, anyway.)

    If a crew was lost and the Soyuz system experienced extended downtime as a result, there is no alternative for keeping ISS crewed, which carries significant risks for losing ISS altogether, especially as ISS goes uncrewed for longer and longer periods of time. If a Soyuz crew is lost after Shuttle retires, and especially if ISS started to degrade or was lost, I would not want to be the NASA Administrator or ESMD AA that has to explain to the White House and Congress why we didn’t pursue a path that could bring a domestic alternative to the Soyuz online earlier.

    FWIW…

  • Anon

    Huh? How would the US Congress influence a hypothetical Russian space tourism regulatory regime, much less the use of Russian national space assets?

    Simple – Congress will just ban U.S. citizens from access to space on non-U.S. launch systems that fail to conform to FAA AST standards. After all under Article VI of the OST the U.S. is responsible for its nationals in space and that includes the moral obligation to seeing to their safety. It would be a simple feel good amendment to the NASA or DOT funding bill.

    And while Congressional attention is on the risks of space tourism they could take the necessary action to make sure U.S. space tourists are safe. Simple amendment to the DOT funding bill calling for regulations to ensure their safety.

    Congress would likely also ban NASA from using Soyuz for crew rotation. Again, simple amendment to the NASA funding bill.

    And since CEV is not available canceling crew rotation on Shuttle provides the excuse needed to extend Shuttle to support U.S. interests in the $100 billion ISS in the interim. Good bye to your $3 billion dollar CRS market.

    Are those enough commercial impacts for you?

    That is why I would be very worried about the next Soyuz landing if I was a New Spacer.

    But keep you head in the sand believing its no big deal.

    However you should never underestimate the ability of Congress to score political points over something, especially if it doesn’t impact 99.9% of the voters. Look at the political over reaction on ITAR based on what happened with commercial launches in China and the commercial impact it has had.

  • PolicyGeek

    Good analysis. But I expect you are optimist to think it will be limited to Congress. I expect there will be a Presidential Commission as well to fix blame. Look for the son of CAIB.

  • anonymousspace

    “Simple – Congress will just ban U.S. citizens from access to space on non-U.S. launch systems that fail to conform to FAA AST standards.”

    Even if Congress passed such a ban, how would it be enforced? Is every U.S. border control exit form going to ask travelers if they plan to visit LEO via Soyuz? Are NASA astronauts going to be directed to detain U.S. citizens at the ISS? Is a force of U.S. marshals going to to be positioned in Kazakhstan to arrest U.S. citizens after Soyuz reentry and landing?

    Goofy…

    “Congress would likely also ban NASA from using Soyuz for crew rotation.”

    Such a ban would abrogate U.S. commitments to the international partners to provide for ISS crew transport and rescue, leave the ISS unoccupied and unused, and risk losing the ISS to failure modes that require crewmembers to fix. No federal politician, in Congress or the White House, is going to sign up for that international black eye, apparent waste of taxpayer resources, and risk of highly visible failure.

    Highly, highly unlikely…

    “And since CEV is not available canceling crew rotation on Shuttle provides the excuse needed to extend Shuttle to support U.S. interests in the $100 billion ISS in the interim. Good bye to your $3 billion dollar CRS market.”

    Maintaining Shuttle flights after 2010 will require a down payment of $10 billion for recertification and an annual payment of $4-5 billion per year for operations. Congressional appropriators are simply not going to cough up those kinds of funds.

    It’s a non-starter…

    “But keep you head in the sand believing its no big deal.”

    I would not advise anyone to worry about non-existent and unenforceable laws, Congress passing laws that would make it members look very bad, or Congress passing laws that would require multi-ten billion dollar increases that are not in the cards.

    But if someone was an employee or fan of NASA’s Constellation Program, I would tell them to worry about Congressional scrutiny if that program has failed to produce a domestic human LEO transport capability before the next fatal Soyuz accident (regardless of whether a U.S. space tourist or even NASA astronaut is among the fatalities).

    “Look at the political over reaction on ITAR based on what happened with commercial launches in China and the commercial impact it has had.”

    There was no congressional “over reaction [sic]” over the Loral Chinese launch incidents. Playing on connections between Loral’s leadership and the Clinton White House, Republican members in Congress used it as a wedge against the Clinton Administration. It was a calculated move, not an “over reaction [sic]“.

    FWIW…

  • anon

    Thanks for the comic relief!

    Even if Congress passed such a ban, how would it be enforced? Is every U.S. border control exit form going to ask travelers if they plan to visit LEO via Soyuz? Are NASA astronauts going to be directed to detain U.S. citizens at the ISS? Is a force of U.S. marshals going to to be positioned in Kazakhstan to arrest U.S. citizens after Soyuz reentry and landing?

    Nope, all the feds have to do is read the Russia PR releases on who the next space tourist is and then give them a call if they are a U.S. citizen and remind them of the consequences. And if they still fly then you just address them when they return to the U.S.

    Such a ban would abrogate U.S. commitments to the international partners to provide for ISS crew transport and rescue, leave the ISS unoccupied and unused, and risk losing the ISS to failure modes that require crewmembers to fix. No federal politician, in Congress or the White House, is going to sign up for that international black eye, apparent waste of taxpayer resources, and risk of highly visible failure.

    The members of Congress are responsible to the American people, not the Russian, Japanese or Europeans. If the Soyuz is seen as unsafe for astronauts then NASA will not fly an astronaut on Soyuz or use it.

    But you are right, the ISS is a $100 billion asset that won’t be abandoned. That is why Congress WILL continue to fly the Shuttle until the CEV is ready to pick up the slack. Sure it will be expensive, but without Soyuz it’s the only option for meeting those obligations. It’s basically the same reason the Shuttle is flying now, to fulfill international obligations.

    I would not advise anyone to worry about non-existent and unenforceable laws, Congress passing laws that would make it members look very bad, or Congress passing laws that would require multi-ten billion dollar increases that are not in the cards.

    The ban on space tourist is easily enforced as noted above. And we are spending multi-ten of billions now to finish the ISS instead of just abandoning it after Columbia. Why wouldn’t the Congress do the same if Soyuz proves unsafe?

    Playing on connections between Loral’s leadership and the Clinton White House, Republican members in Congress used it as a wedge against the Clinton Administration. It was a calculated move, not an “over reaction [sic]”.

    Ask anyone working in the space industry if the current ITAR is an appropriate and calculated move. They are likely to disagree.

  • anonymouspace

    “Nope, all the feds have to do is read the Russia PR releases on who the next space tourist is and then give them a call if they are a U.S. citizen and remind them of the consequences.”

    And those consequences would be…???

    Do you really think that fines are going to keep U.S. bazillionaires from riding Russian rockets into space?

    Do you really think that Congress is going to pass a law that puts U.S. citizens in jail for taking trips into space?

    I can see it now… no, really, your honor, Mr. Gates is much safer with the murderers and rapists in federal lockup than flying on a Russian launch vehicle.

    Very delusional…

    “Congress WILL continue to fly the Shuttle until the CEV is ready”

    Flying Shuttle past 2010 requires some $10 billion in recertification costs and $4-5 billion in operations cost per year. Even if Ares I/Orion make their 2015 IOC (highly, highly unlikely), that’s $30-40 billion in extra funding that Congress would have to add to the NASA budget to keep Shuttle flying until Ares I/Orion are operational.

    Congress has failed for three years running to pass a lousy $1-2 billion increase in the NASA budget to pay back the costs of recovering from the Columbia accident, which killed seven NASA astronauts.

    Do you really think Congress is going to come up with $30-40 billion more in funding if a Soyuz accident kills one or two NASA astronauts, when they repeatedly can’t even pass an extra $1-2 billion for a Shuttle accident that killed seven NASA astronauts?

    Very, very delusional…

    “Ask anyone working in the space industry if the current ITAR is an appropriate and calculated move.”

    I never said that ITAR certification was “appropriate”. That’s your word.

    I said that ITAR certification was politically “calculated”.

    Sheesh…

  • Anon

    It didn’t stop them from arresting MirCorp’s CEO Walt Anderson.

    And stop inflating the Shuttle cost figures. Its more like $3-4 billion a year for 4 years. NASA would likely squeeze that out of other programs with only a modest increase from Congress.

    But if the Soyuz fails in October you will see. Then you will likely claim you predicted it all along under your real name :-)

  • anonymouspace

    “It didn’t stop them from arresting MirCorp’s CEO Walt Anderson.”

    Anderson was arrested for massive tax evasion, not any illegal space activities.

    Jeez… can’t you get even one fact right?

    “Its more like $3-4 billion a year for 4 years.”

    No, it’s not. The Shuttle budget goes down to $3-4 billion annually in FY 2009 and FY 2010 because the program is in shutdown mode and ramping down. But if the program is not being shut down, it has to be supported at the $4-5 billion level. In fact, if the decision was made to keep Shuttle operating, we’d have to add $2-4 billion to bring the FY 2009 and FY 2010 budgets back up, on top of the $30-40 billion figure for FY 2011-FY 2015. That’s $32-44 billion to keep Shuttle operating through 2015.

    Billions more if Ares I/Orion doesn’t make its 2015 IOC.

    Even more if we account for inflation.

    “NASA would likely squeeze that out of other programs with only a modest increase from Congress.”

    Even with your impossibly small numbers, we’re looking at $12-16 billion dollars.

    Congress can’t even pass $1-2 billion for Columbia and Katrina recovery.

    Ain’t gonna happen.

Leave a Reply

  

  

  

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>