Congress, NASA

Shelby holding up NASA stimulus funding

Space News reports in its print edition this week that Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) is holding up the release of “most if not all” of the $1 billion allocated to NASA in the stimulus bill approved earlier this year. The problem is that NASA is planning to spend $150 million of the $400 million appropriated to exploration for ISS commercial resupply activity, including early work to support commercial crew missions to the station. As you may recall, Shelby expressed his opposition to such spending in a hearing last month, saying that “manned spaceflight is something that is still in the realm of government” and that companies like SpaceX that have proposed such flights “cannot substitute for the painful truth of failed performance at present.”

According to the article (not available online to the best of my knowledge) several congressional sources confirmed Shelby’s hold on the funding, although his office had not provided any comment to the publication prior to going to press. (While not explicitly stated in the article, Shelby is apparently holding up approval of the spending plan that NASA was required to submit to Congress within 60 days of the bill’s enactment.) According to the article “meetings were under way at press time to resolve the standoff”.

19 comments to Shelby holding up NASA stimulus funding

  • Some other Blogs are going to have to carry the burden of the pretense of objectivity, because there are those many of us who still call ourselves Republicans (yes, more than some might think) who intend to call Senator Shelby out on this, and more particularly try to discover who at Huntsville seems to feel threatened by COTS. That is their right of course, as is the right of others to see that they do not remain hidden in darkness.

    I have to wonder why, or if, the Senator failed to mention Orbital, which has a demonstrated record of success. In the end, this divides the room over ideology, and one the Senator claims he holds and abides. If Norm Augustine’s Committee decides to abandon manned spaceflight, is the U.S. to then be reduced to subordination to a consensus of nations?

    That’s a perfectly legitimate world view, of course, but out with it, already. Who in Huntsville is lighting fires under Senator Shelby, and why?

    Were a ways from manned resupply. Was this money withheld for unmanned resupply? It’s all somewhat strange.

    Painful truth hurts two ways.

  • Mark R. Whittington

    Thia ia not the first time Shelby has favored parochial interests over the national interest. A few years ago he insisted that funding be kept in Huntsville for a lunar landing proe that NASA had cancelled. It was not enough money t actually complete the project, of course, but enough to employ some people in Alabama. This was after he robbed funding for a more innovative lunar lander projct that was being undertaken at NASA Ames.

  • Can't say

    This is yet another reason why NASA can’t spend their money in 1 yr. Even after the bill passes, they have to wait until Congress has the final word on if NASA understood their direction. The hold up is on the Operating Plan, I presume. This is a document that NASA sends to the hill each year outlining how funding items from the appropriations bills will be distributed. If I am not mistaken, NASA has 1 year obligate the stim money or it is gone. Shelby was pretty miffed about the funding in the last appropriations hearing, but Sen. Nelson was wanting NASA to fund it so NASA is stuck in the middle of Senators playing engineers again. Hope they let everyone know what they decide soon so the Agency doesn’t lose the money.

  • I have to say, Shelby’s sense of entitlement here is galling. $250M is way more than enough for a project that really ought to be (and hopefully will be) canceled. Another $150M to CxP is only going to speed up Ares-I IOC by a maximum of two or three weeks. $150M going to commercial manned flight could make a much bigger difference. Heck, if anything, I think even more of the $400M should be going to places where it could make a difference. What about say another $30M for Centennial Challenges (which hasn’t gotten any funding since its first year, in spite of being a big PR boon for the agency). NASA != Northern Alabama Space Administration.


  • Martijn Meijering

    Is it really about the $150M? It could be about not making SpaceX into a bigger threat to Ares.

  • Al Fansome

    MEIJERING: Is it really about the $150M? It could be about not making SpaceX into a bigger threat to Ares.

    Exactly, this is about the many billions that go to feed the central-government-rocket-planning department that is in Huntsville.

    Providing funded Space Act Agreements to companies who leverage private funds for rocket developments, means that those companies could be anywhere in the nation, and is a threat to the Old Space approach that has plans to spend tens of billions on rockets.

    Senator Shelby = Republican Socialist


    – Al

  • A NASA Engineer

    A little insight…

    COTS was never budgeted this far out at these amounts…so the new momentum, amounts and continuation in a zero sum “NASA top-line” budget game comes out of someones hide.

    More than likely being “space” it hits HSF first. then being that Shuttle and ISS have fixed contracts, operations, productions, and needs then this comes out of Cx. Since Cx is the new 800 lb gorilla striving for alpha-male status it will by necessity try and kill off this siphon of funds it expected to be theirs.

    Ahhh…competition…it’s the politics of aggression ultimately. So far COTS is doing quite well in the jungle battle…we’ll see.

    COTS…watch your back. Low cost access to space is to many a “distraction”. An enabling goal, in whatever form it takes over the years, is a challenge to those who hate “enabling” investments as these just give rise to competing power centers.

  • common sense

    Well I guess it goes to show that Sen Nelson and Sen Shelby can go across the aisle for the common good. Very nice actually: Florida and Alabama are becoming the United Space of America! That’s the spirit!

  • Sheridan

    @ Joel Raupe,
    This has nothing to do with ideology. It’s purely about cold hard cash. Every penny taken away from Ares work and given to COTS is a penny less going to Marshall Space Flight Center. Why is anyone surprised to see the Senator from that district trying to get in the way of it?

    This reminds me of those 6 jobs they wanted to move from MSFC to KSC a few years ago, which Senator Shelby also fought against very publicly.

    Credit where credit is due: That is his job. But the problem is that he seems hell-bent on prioritizing the “Northern Alabama Space Agency” far ahead of the much larger and more important “National” NASA the rest of us all support.

    COTS is now firmly aligned in the gun sights of THE most powerful Senator in the space industry. Rest In Piece.

  • common sense


    The Augustine panel WILL conclude that COTS MUST go on, especially for this kind of money. If not: bye bye human space exploration!

    Nobody will believe that $150M are damaging Ares so much (!) or that it can put Ares back on track…

  • Kevin Parkin

    This abuse of power and those before it are why NASA cannot succeed.

    One of Shelby’s earlier interventions convinced me that the only way to save the space age is to separate NASA’s many types of activity into many different types of organizations.

    Operational activites need to be carried out by companies, research activites need to migrate back into the universities, fixed national assets like wind tunnels and propulsion test stands need to become shared experimental facilities akin to synchrotrons, particle accelerators and telescopes.

    While these very different activities continue to be artificially bundled together as NASA centers, geopolitical forces will continue to be misaligned with and sometimes oppose commercial, engineering and scientific progress in space. Perhaps the best example of this opposition of interests is Alabama’s monopoly on rockets and propulsion.

  • Martijn Meijering

    Shelby is up for reelection next year. If he is not relected, his successor will not inherit his membership of the Appropriations Committee. Unfortunately, last time round he was elected by a landslide.

  • sc220

    Shelby is up for reelection next year. If he is not relected, his successor will not inherit his membership of the Appropriations Committee. Unfortunately, last time round he was elected by a landslide.

    He’ll probably get 65-70% of the vote. I think he won by that margin 5 years ago. Remember, people love their politicians in the South. You can’t go a mile without passing a building named after a famous senator or congressman.

  • Yeah, banking on Shelby getting the boot isn’t very likely.


  • At first glance, one might think that Sen. Shelby would be open to COTS D, since most of the companies interested in that plan to use EELVs manufactured in Decatur, Alabama.

    But apparently Marshall is so paranoid that they won’t allow any NASA element to sign a contract with any company to even contemplate launching a human being to orbit on anything other than Ares 1, since that would be an existence proof that liquid rockets might be human capable, at which point The Great Myth of Shuttle Derived begins to unravel.

    (The exception to this rule, of course, is Samara’s Soyuz rocket, which launches Energia’s Soyuz capsule. MSFC couldn’t keep the ISS Program from signing THAT contract. In fact, that contract helps Keep Ares Sold.) .

  • Major Tom

    Shelby holds up funding over a lousy $150M for a much needed COTS D effort, while the House appropriators have cut the topline budget for Constellation by nearly $700M. What an idiotic and wasteful use of limited political leverage…

    Another brilliant move by another space Senator. Shelby and Nelson are in a bipartisan race to the bottom.

    Sigh… FWIW…

  • Martijn Meijering

    Another brilliant move by another space Senator. Shelby and Nelson are in a bipartisan race to the bottom.

    If Shelby and Nelson can both block progress, then they need each other or they will both get nothing. Might this explain Nelson’s support for Ares and his recent backtracking on COTS-D? Maybe he had a little chat with Nelson.

  • Martijn Meijering

    I meant a little chat with Shelby.

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