Congress, NASA

Authorization bill moves to full Senate

In a very brief markup session Tuesday, the Senate Commerce Committee approved its version of a NASA authorization bill for fiscal year 2009. The full text of the legislation isn’t posted yet (nor is even a bill number provided), but the press release does confirm one key provision that would prevent NASA from retiring the shuttle in 2010 if there were still missions left on the manifest, and also report to Congress on what would be needed to recertify the shuttle to fly beyond 2010. The bill also authorizes an additional $150 million, above and beyond the $20.2 billion in the House version of the bill, for development of a commercial crew transfer vehicle (the House contained similar language, but included the $100-million authorization within the $20.2 billion for the agency overall.) Given that appropriators don’t feel inclined to fund NASA at anywhere near that level, and apparently even take money away from COTS, that provision is little more than academic.

10 comments to Authorization bill moves to full Senate

  • rfthompson

    Congress is begining to ask NASA the proper questions.They must realize however that the NASA Administrator is a zealot for flight into deep space and will sacrifice whatever is necessary including jobs and a good earth orbital program in order to quickly shift in that direction.His answers will in all probability include a great deal of bias.
    THE GAP: This results from poor NASA planning and can only be eliminated by operating the Shuttle past 2010.The Columbia Accident Investigation Board did not recommend a termination date for Shuttle. In fact they forcast operations past 2020.The recertification discussed in 2010 should be easy for NASA to fulfill if they continue to run a valid Flight Readiness Review Process. What the Administrator really wants is an early access to Shuttle funds for his deep space exploration dreams.Work force disruption and loss of status on Space Station are not in his opinion sufficent reasons for slowing down his dream.I hope the congress will be able to properly evaluate his biased responses and ask the proper follow on questions.Funds to Russia and the rush back to Apollo have to come into the discussion at some time. Keep at it Congress we can develop a better plan.

  • rfthompson: the NASA Administrator is a zealot for flight into deep space and will sacrifice whatever is necessary including jobs and a good earth orbital program in order to quickly shift in that direction.

    I had plenty of problems with Dr. Griffin, but this is not one of them. It is past time to venture again beyond low Earth orbit. The purpose of the space program is not, and should not, solely be to support jobs; it must have a purpose first or, over the long term, it will generate no jobs at all. NASA has demonstrated most of the techniques we need to operate in LEO; it is now time to transition that to agencies like the NSF and commercial companies, while NASA goes on to destinations where these organizations cannot go to. Of course, that is an ideal, but to the degree that Dr. Griffin may work toward that ideal (and the majority of my problems with him have to do with his failures to do that, especially in his choice of an architecture designed more to preserve Shuttle jobs than for achieving the job of getting into deep space), more power to him.

    operating the Shuttle past 2010

    Which guarantees we have no near-term future beyond the Shuttle. The Shuttle eats up too much of the budget, money that would better be spent investing in COTS and new transportation systems to get beyond LEO.

    What the Administrator really wants is an early access to Shuttle funds for his deep space exploration dreams.

    I’m sorry, but I fully support him in this. Any “better plan” the government can afford starts with ending the Shuttle’s financial black hole. As you can see from my Web site if you desire, I have been a strong supporter of the Shuttle project for most of its history, but it is now long past time to move on. We should have done that immediately after the loss of Columbia.

    – Donald

  • Charles in Houston

    RFThomson says:

    THE GAP: This results from poor NASA planning and so RF says that the coming Gap could be blamed on NASA.

    This is NOT correct, a Gap was caused by a retirement date for Shuttle that was arbitrarily decided upon by the President or some minion of his. It certainly came as a surprise to people in Houston!

    The Gap is a result of retiring the Shuttle before we fly the new vehicle.

    Fortunatly, George Bush retires before the Shuttle will.

    We are certainly between a rock and a hard place, but hopefully what we will do (once George Bush is retired!) is stretch the Shuttle out while we develop a new manned launch vehicle. Once that is in place we can honorably retire the Shuttle with no Gap. Then we can proceed on developing a heavy lift launch vehicle while we try to find the money to go to the Moon.

    Perhaps, one day in the future, we can develop an international consortium that will allow us to send people to Mars.

  • Charles in Houston:
    If Mikulski is having problems raising NASA’s budget by $1 billion, where do you think the extra $20 billion or so is going to come from to fly the shuttle AND build Ares I and VI at the same time. Unless you’ve got a magic billion making machine in your back pocket that fantasy of yours ain’t gonna happen.

  • Charles in Houston: is stretch the Shuttle out while we develop a new manned launch vehicle

    These two goals are mutually exclusive. Reducing the Shuttle flight rate only vastly increases the cost per flight, it does not reduce the year-on-year cost of running the program, at least not enough. Your plan might keep the Shuttle flying longer, but it would push out any return to deep space even more. Our goal in space should not be to fly the Shuttle, it should be to explore (in the widest sense which includes searching for usable resources and developing commerce), and that requires returning to deep space.

    I am not very knowledgeable about the current status of the Shuttle parts inventory (maybe somebody who is can elaborate), but it is my understanding that the production lines for many Shuttle components have already been shut down and reoriented toward the Constellation project. If so, just because you’re still flying (on inventory and spares) does not mean the Shuttle is not already retired.

    – Donald

  • The purpose of the space program is not, and should not, solely be to support jobs

    That should not be its purpose at all. In an ideal world, that wouldn’t even be a minor consideration in policy making. Unfortunately, that’s not the world in which we live, which is why it is important to get as much private space going as possible, as soon as possible, and stop dreaming that the government will lead the way.

    Reducing the Shuttle flight rate only vastly increases the cost per flight, it does not reduce the year-on-year cost of running the program, at least not enough.

    Who cares? It maintains the jobs…

  • Rand: In an ideal world, that wouldn’t even be a minor consideration in policy making.

    Here, (understanding that you disagree) I think you go too far. Attempting to create the conditions that allow constructive, well-paying jobs is just as much a government role as attempting to create conditions that discourage the transmission of disease or creating conditions making it difficult to invade the country or creating conditions conducive to trade. A key example was allowing Boeing and McDonnell Douglas to combine, which, by removing internal competition, guaranteed the Europeans half of one of our last remaining manufacturing industries for now and probably ensured our ultimate exit from this industry as soon as China, et al, succeed in copying the relevant skills. Preventing that merger would have prevented, or at least delayed, the export of a lot of American middle class engineering jobs and that is a role the government should have taken a lot more seriously than it did. Preserving jobs should rarely be the sole reason you take an action, or fail to take one, but it should always be an element of the decision.

    Where I disagree with Shuttle advocates is similar to my disagreement with those who would allow cutting the last old growth forests to preserve a few jobs for a few years. In the end, you’ll end up with no old growth forests _and_ no jobs. If we keep the Shuttle flying to preserve a few thousand jobs at the expense of investing in the future of spaceflight, a few years down the road we are likely to end up with no spaceflight _and_ no spaceflight-related jobs, at the same time we are facing the retirement costs of they baby boomers.

    A far better strategy is to shut down the Shuttle project ASAP (which, unless you are going to build new orbiters, is doomed anyway), and invest in the money in COTS, deep space technology and infrastructure, and even better utilizing the relatively modern EELVs, and other investments, that collectively will create a different set of jobs now and ultimately could lead to a lot more than the few thousand Shuttle-related jobs.

    – Donald

  • Nemo

    This is NOT correct, a Gap was caused by a retirement date for Shuttle that was arbitrarily decided upon by the President or some minion of his. It certainly came as a surprise to people in Houston!

    No, that is incorrect. The administration decided the retirement date quite un-arbitrarily by the desire to avoid the recertification recommended by the CAIB. It did not come as a surprise to anyone in Houston who was paying attention.

    Now, the CAIB did decide on 2010 arbitrarily. Their intent was to throw up a roadblock to NASA’s plans to operate the shuttle to 2020 or later, and 2010 was a nice round number that, they thought at the time, would allow ISS assembly to be completed without undue schedule pressure. Other than that there was no reason to prefer 2010 over 2009 or 2011 or whatever other date one could pluck from the air. But once the CAIB decided that, it set in motion the administration’s decision to retire the orbiter fleet on that date.

  • Nemo

    A far better strategy is to shut down the Shuttle project ASAP

    And that is exactly what is happening, where the “possible” in “ASAP” is defined in the political sense as well as the technical.

    The ISS partners have made it about as clear as they can to NASA, to the Congress, to the Administration, and to anyone else within earshot that if the US government shuts down the shuttle program before ISS assembly complete, then the US can pretty much forget about any kind of international cooperation with Constellation. You may well not care about that and in fact there are many who don’t. But there are enough in Congress who do care that the program will not survive without it.

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