It was all smiles yesterday morning at the Kennedy Space Center as officials from NASA, Boeing, and Space Florida, along with various elected officials, announced that Boeing would set up operations at KSC’s Orbiter Processing Facility 3 for the eventually assembly of its CST-100 commercial crew vehicles. The focus of the attention was, by and large, the economic impact of that decision, including the creation of up to 550 jobs at the center by mid-decade.
There is one catch to that deal, though, which Boeing hinted at in its own press release with this caveat: “Pending the continued selection of Boeing for future Commercial Crew development and service contracts, and sufficient NASA funding…”. Boeing, of course, has to be competitive enough to win funding in future rounds of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program against competitors like Blue Origin, Sierra Nevada Corporation, and SpaceX. But, as Boeing hints, the NASA funding has to be there in the first place, and the battle over the 2012 budget—where NASA requested $850 million, but the House and Senate have offered only $312 million and $500 million, respectively—is not an optimistic sign.
Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), one of the speakers at the hour-long ceremony, mentioned the funding discrepancy. “The House has cut it to $312 million,” he said of the administration’s FY2012 request of $850 million, “and the Senate, along with Kay [Bailey Hutchison], Barbara Mikulski, and a number of others, has gotten it up to $500 million.” He stopped short, though, of calling for full funding for the program. “It’s almost a minor miracle that NASA has not been cut more in its overall funding level,” he said. “Compared to other agencies NASA has fared very well in what we have produced out of the Senate Appropriations Committee.”
Rep. Sandy Adams (R-FL), whose district includes KSC, also spoke in support of commercial crew at the event, calling it “the best near-term hope we have for getting American astronauts, on American rockets, built by an American aerospace workforce, to the International Space Station” in her remarks. “As America takes steps towards the next chapter of space exploration, it is imperative that Congress remains vigilant in its support of the efforts of the Commercial Crew and COTS program,” she said, but was silent on specific funding levels.
The only person to go on the record for full funding for the program in FY2012 was Space Florida president Frank DiBello. “We believe that the president’s request should be fully funded,” he told the Orlando Sentinel. But with the Senate expected to wrap up work as soon as tonight on the “minibus” FY12 appropriations bill that includes NASA, time is running out to add funding for this program.