As the debate grinds on in Washington about a deal to raise the debt ceiling, there have been questions about what will happen should an agreement not be reached by the current deadline of Tuesday. On Friday NASA administrator Charles Bolden sent out message to the agency’s workforce, effectively telling them it will be business as usual this coming week at the space agency. “I am sending this note to remind you that NASA employees should plan to come to work next week, as scheduled, at their normal place and time,” he wrote in the memo, obtained by SpaceRef.
POLITICO examined Friday the lobbying practices of aerospace companies in this new space policy era. Much of the article is less about NASA than about efforts by SpaceX to win business from the Air Force for military launches, arguing that its rockets are just as good as those built by United Launch Alliance but cost much less. SpaceX, the article notes, is on a pace to exceed its 2010 lobbying expenses of $600,000, much more than the $120,000 a year spent by ULA but a small fraction of that spent by ULA’s corporate parents, Boeing and Lockheed Martin.
That article leads, though, with the belief that the president and SpaceX founder Elon Musk are good friends—“President Barack Obama’s élan for Elon Musk”, as the article cleverly puts it—based on Musk’s donations to Obama and “multiple personal visits”. Musk, though, quashes any idea the two are close. “People think Obama is my best friend. If he has been my best friend, he sure hasn’t been very good at helping me out,” Musk told POLITICO. “Obama has been doing a good job within the scope of what he can do … but not pushing further. And Congress has done quite a bad job.”
Speaking Friday morning at the NewSpace 2011 Conference at NASA Ames Research Center, Virgin Galactic president and CEO George Whitesides spent most of his time talking about the status of his company and the progress they’re making in developing a suborbital vehicle. However, the former chief of staff to NASA administrator Bolden also touched upon space policy issues for part of his talk. Whitesides noted he had just come from the EAA AirVenture show in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, and wondered when the space field would be able to host a show of a similar type and scale. “While we cannot be sure that the current national policy will get us to that future, I think we can be reasonably sure the path we were on before would not get us to that future,” he said.
He said that if we had continued down the path of an “Apollo-like” program, there would be little funding available for technological innovations that could lower the cost of space access in general and create an “exothermic reaction” of activity in space. “I really do believe—and I was involved in some of these conversations—that the underlying motivation for these new national policy changes is a desire to go further, and to go sustainably,” he said. “What is motivating, I think, this policy is absolutely not a desire to kill human spaceflight, but it is a desire to essentially press the reset button on human spaceflight, and to try to get it into a pathway that really can fulfill our dreams.” He added it was ironic that some viewed the policy as killing human spaceflight when instead it’s intended “to encourage human spaceflight to thrive, ultimately.”