One of the interesting aspects of the reaction to NASA’s new human spaceflight plans is the strong opposition to it from Alabama’s congressional delegation, in particular Sen. Richard Shelby: while plans to end Constellation will have impacts on the Marshall Space Flight Center, that will be partially, if not completely, offset by other work there, not to mention additional for United Launch Alliance, which builds Atlas and Delta rockets at a plant in Decatur. Among the puzzled is the head of a competitor to ULA.
“I don’t really understand why Senator Shelby is so opposed to commercial crew,” SpaceX CEO Elon Musk told the Huntsville Times in a recent interview, “given that Atlas and Delta are right there in Alabama, because no one’s going to be a bigger winner in commercial crew than United Launch Alliance.” Musk said it was a “certainty” that ULA would win contracts to launch crewed spacecraft until the proposed plan, while “it’s much more a question mark” for SpaceX.
Musk also said he doesn’t know why his company in particular has been on the receiving end of so much criticism (by name or implied) by Shelby. “I just don’t understand what his beef is,” he told the Times. “I’ve tried to meet with him,” he added. “He refuses to meet.” A spokesman for Shelby said the two had in fact met at some point in the past but the two “have fundamental differences in their vision for successful space policy that will not be overcome in a meet and greet.”
Meanwhile, Mo Brooks, a Republican challenging incumbent Rep. Parker Griffith (R-AL), told the Decatur Daily that he also opposed the administration’s plan even though it would benefit hometown ULA. “I don’t want the private sector being in charge of what is national security information,” he said, not specifying what “national security information” would be put in jeopardy by having commercial providers carrying out crew launches.
Brooks also criticized Griffith for alienating fellow members of Congress, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, saying that criticism made it impossible for him to win support for NASA, and Constellation in particular, on Capitol Hill. “I believe Parker Griffith’s inability to work with members of Congress is a major factor in our potential loss of the (NASA) Constellation program,” Brooks said of the first-term congressman who switched parties last December.