“Can We Turn Over America’s Space Program to a ‘Space Cadet’?” is the lurid headline late Friday in the normally-staid The Hill. The post, part of the Capitol Hill publication’s “Pundits Blog”, is by Peter Fenn, head of a PR firm and someone who has worked extensively with Democratic candidates. The “space cadet” in question is Elon Musk: Fenn is worried that by turning over access to LEO to SpaceX in particular that “we taxpayers may be paying for it and sacrificing solid, important research and development in the process” (he doesn’t specify exactly what “solid, important research and development” would be sacrificed.) He is particularly at odds, though, with Musk’s unusual direct PR approach: “Somehow this does not seem like the right style for a company and a CEO that we should entrust with our space program and the effort to build the electric car.” (The post is as much about Tesla as it is about SpaceX, with Fenn claiming incorrectly that Musk started SpaceX because he “must be somewhat bored with electric cars”; SpaceX predates Tesla.)
In an op-ed in Sunday’s Houston Chronicle, Scott Spencer and Chris Kraft make a last-ditch bid to extend the space shuttle program as a cornerstone for a “robust manned space program”. The op-ed takes a curiouser turn later on, though, as the two advocate development of a “modular, reusable Planetary Transport Vehicle (PTV) System” for human missions beyond LEO—modules that, of course, would be sized to fit in the shuttle’s payload bay, but with crews ferried to them in LEO by commercial vehicles. It’s worth nothing that the two sent a joint letter to President Obama in April asking him to extend the shuttle program (but without the discussion of the PTV system) when Spencer made a short-lived attempt to run for the House from Delaware.
The James Webb Space Telescope is the topic of an editorial in the Orlando Sentinel on Saturday, which expresses concerns about cost overruns and delays in the program. “Such cost overruns and delays are unacceptable,” the editorial states, but expresses support for the program’s scientific potential. “Making the Webb telescope a success deserves to be a national priority. Its promise is almost unfathomable.”
Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) is optimistic about the commercial prospects of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) at Wallops Island in Virginia, she tells the local newspaper, the Daily News. The spaceport will start hosting launches next summer of Orbital Sciences’ Taurus 2 rocket, carrying cargo spacecraft to the ISS. Wallops, she said, “will be like the Southwest Airlines of space. It’s an upstart, lower cost, cheaper and safer way because it doesn’t require human flight.” The metaphor seems a little tangled: Orbital, it seems, would be in line to be Southwest while Wallops would be like Dallas’s Love Field, or, closer to home, BWI Airport, both major hubs for Southwest.