Most members of Congress—with one notable exception—spoke approvingly of NASA’s announcement Wednesday of the design of the Space Launch System (SLS) heavy-lift rocket, even if they also expressed some frustration that the decision took too long to make or a perceived lack of vision for NASA’s human spaceflight programs.
For example, the key senators involved in promoting the SLS, Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), joined colleagues in praising the announcement. “This is the biggest thing for space exploration in decades,” Nelson said. “Because of the delays in announcing this design, it is imperative that we work with NASA to assure that the new Space Launch System is pursued without further losses of time and efficiency, while relying on NASA’s world-class engineers and designers to continue U.S. leadership in space exploration,” said Hutchison.
Another senator vocal on NASA issues, Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL), was cautiously pleased with the announcement. Citing a lack of details in the announcement, he said, “I will continue to monitor this situation very closely to see whether the administration implements the 130-metric ton SLS plan as enacted by Congress.” NASA’s current plans call for initial development of a 70-ton version of the rocket that can later be upgraded to a 130-ton version at a unspecified date. Shelby’s comments were echoed by his colleague, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL): “NASA must continue to strive for the 130 metric-ton goal specified in law passed by Congress. And, I will continue to strongly encourage NASA to complete the Space Launch System and the 130 metric-ton rocket.”
Three House members—Rep. Ralph Hall (R-TX), chairman of the House Space, Science, and Technology Committee; Rep. Steven Palazzo (R-MS), chairman of that committee’s space subcommittee; and Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA), chairman of the subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee with oversight of NASA—issued a joint statement primarily venting frustration with delays in announcing the SLS design. “This Administration’s lack of commitment for human space exploration has frustrated and angered many of us in Congress who are committed to American leadership in space,” they state. “It is our sincere hope that today’s announcement signals a breakthrough with this President that will help alleviate the uncertainty that has plagued our aerospace industrial base and wreaked havoc on its employees.”
The science committee’s Democratic leadership was more conciliatory than their Republican colleagues. This is a great step forward. I am pleased that the White House has joined Congress in committing to a sustained, productive future for the nation’s human space flight program,” said Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), ranking member of the science committee.
Individual Republican members expressed variations on the same themes. “While I am pleased that the new system has been announced, it was long past due and I will continue to push this White House to comply with the law of the land and get America back into space,” said Rep. Pete Olson (R-TX). Rep. John Culberson (R-TX) had similar concerns: “Despite today’s announcement, I remain frustrated and deeply disappointed that the Obama Administration continues to delay the implementation of the human space flight program approved by a bi-partisan Congress last year.” “It is time for NASA to give Congress a schedule — a hard and fast timeline — so American taxpayers have no doubt how their money is being spent on this effort. The days of unaccountable calendar and cost overruns are over,” said Rep. Sandy Adams (R-FL), who emphasized job creation in her statement as well. Rep. Bill Posey (R-FL), while saying he was “encouraged” by the decision, is looking for a clearer vision and mission for the space agency: “We need bold objectives and an aggressive timeline to captivate and excite Americans of all ages, and keep our nation first in Space as a matter of national security.”
An exception to the general praise for the SLS decision comes from Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA). “This program is just fundamentally wrong,” he told the Los Angeles Daily News. He called the SLS “old technology” that he likened to the Saturn 5 rocket of the 1960s. “There are more viable and more creative ways of approaching the creation of a space transport system.”