Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) hasn’t changed his mind about NASA’s new direction, one that cancels Constellation and seeks to develop commercial systems to transport crews to and from low Earth orbit. He does realize, though, that he has a challenge in front of him: convincing fellow members of Congress that don’t think much about space to join him in blocking the plan. “Of course we have that with delegations from the five or so states that have an interest in NASA, but it is getting the other 45 states to care that’s the trick,” he told the Huntsville Times. And in a separate Monday in Huntsville, he said, “We’ve got to create critical mass.” How he plans to create that “critical mass” among members who don’t think much about space wasn’t discussed.
In his meeting with the Times Shelby reiterated his opposition to supporting commercial ventures to launch astronauts. “We have a space industry already. We build rockets right here in North Alabama. It makes no sense to enter into business with unproven companies.” That statement is a little odd since United Launch Alliance, a company that does build rockets in North Alabama, is one company that has expressed an interest in launching crewed spacecraft.
Shelby also confirmed that he met briefly last week with NASA administrator Charles Bolden, a courtesy call that lasted only 10-12 minutes, Shelby said. “He came up to sell me on a program to dismantle Constellation,” Shelby said. “I respect General Bolden as a military leader and an astronaut, but we disagree fundamentally on NASA.”
Elsewhere in the Senate, Jon Cornyn (R-TX) expressed optimism that the proposed plan would be defeated. “I think we’re going to have the votes to beat” the plan, he told the Houston Chronicle. “This is an area where the president is going to receive a substantial bipartisan pushback.”
Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) hopes President Obama tweaks his new plan for NASA at the April 15 space conference planned for Florida. That includes making the plan look a little more traditional, specifying a specific goal and deadline for human exploration, as well as continuing heavy-lift launch vehicle development, according to Florida Today. Nelson, though, isn’t supportive of proposals to extend the life of the shuttle by more than a modest amount, noting there would be downtime of two years or more in order to build additional components needed for those missions. “If you had to wait around for another two-and-a-half years to assemble those parts, and you’re spending $2 billion a year sitting on the ground that’s not going into the development of the new heavy lift rocket to go to Mars, is that a wise use of resources by NASA?”