Congress

Congressional reaction to the SpaceX launch

Although Tuesday morning’s launch by SpaceX of a Dragon spacecraft to the ISS was only the beginning of a complex test flight, some members of Congress were in a celebratory mood after the Falcon 9 rocket placed the Dragon into orbit. “The successful launch of today’s test flight of SpaceX to the International Space Station (ISS) marks the beginning of an exciting new era in space travel,” said Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-PA), ranking member of the commerce, justice, and science subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee. “Today’s launch is not just a single venture into space but a change in the trajectory of how we think of space exploration.”

“This morning’s launch offers the public a glimpse of what the future holds for space travel and exploration,” said Rep. Bill Posey (R-FL), whose district includes Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. It’s a marvelous achievement for Space X [sic], for our scientists and engineers and for the American commercial space industry,”

“This program brings NASA one more step in the right direction,” noted Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), an outspoken advocate of commercial spaceflight. “We must change orbital spaceflight from being dependent on and controlled by government employees, toward more entrepreneurial, cost-effective, commercial-based alternatives.”

Even those who have been critical of the administration’s emphasis on commercial programs offered congratulations. “This is an important moment in the next generation of the US space program. America will follow this mission closely,” said Rep. Pete Olson (R-TX). “There are several critical and challenging mission objectives to complete and I look forward to a successful mission concluding with splashdown on May 31.”

Rep. Ralph Hall (R-TX), chairman of the House Science Committee, also congratulated SpaceX on the launch, but indicated in his statement that he doesn’t believe that this launch alone demonstrates that SpaceX or other companies are ready to make the leap from cargo delivery to crew transportation. “I have long supported the development of commercial cargo spaceflight, and while we still have a long way to go before American astronauts can fly aboard a commercial spacecraft, I hope SpaceX can build upon this success.”

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), the ranking member of the Senate Commerce Committee, subtly hinted at the delays experienced by SpaceX in her congratulatory statement. “This launch has been a long time coming, and I am happy to see this very challenging mission begin,” she said. “Reliable cargo delivery is critical to fully utilizing this magnificent National Laboratory capability, in which we have invested so much as a nation and as a partnership.”

32 comments to Congressional reaction to the SpaceX launch

  • As I suspected, the more success by SpaceX, the more the politicians will jump on the bandwagon.

    But you know that at the first sign of a glitch, they’ll run in the opposite direction.

    If all goes well, it will be interesting to see if any of the Congresscritters proposes increasing commercial crew for FY13 closer to the White House’s $835 million request or if they’ll just issue their bland press releases and ignore history.

  • Bennett

    Stephen at 6:54 am,

    I suspect that the key obstructions to CC (KBH, Shelby, Hall) will continue to obstruct. I’m hoping that a few of the other committee members will start asking “why not fund it?”

    The paradigm may be shifting for good, but the status quo dies slowly and hard.

  • joe

    Both the Hutchison and Hall statements are measured, respectful and in keeping with their past positions on Commercial Cargo. Hutchison has in fact been supportive of Commercial Crew, just not at the expense of funding the MPCV/SLS. Nothing in her statement would seem to change that position.

    Since neither they nor the other members of the key congressional committees are likely to agree to defund MPCV/SLS (however much that might be the fondest wish of many around here) increasing Commercial Crew funding could only happen if more money were supplied (to NASA or at least to HSF). Since that is not likely either, increasing Commercial Crew funding above the proposed $500 – $525 Million is unlikely.

  • kvy

    Joe writes, “increasing Commercial Crew funding above the proposed $500 – $525 Million is unlikely”

    True, but this makes a “down-select” to one provider which would presumably be Boeing or ATK and exclude SpaceX unlikely as well.

  • JohnHunt

    Joe, If commercial crew were to be followed with a “Lunar COTS” could you imagine any political situation where increased funding for commercial space would be provided? Is there anything we could do from now until then to make that likely?

  • joe

    kvy wrote @ May 23rd, 2012 at 11:08 am
    “True, but this makes a “down-select” to one provider which would presumably be Boeing or ATK and exclude SpaceX unlikely as well.”

    May be, but if you know that for a fact; you know something not yet in public evidence. You might want to note this quote from Hall’s statement: “I have long supported the development of commercial cargo spaceflight, and while we still have a long way to go before American astronauts can fly aboard a commercial spacecraft, I hope SpaceX can build upon this success”. Does not sound like a guy that has already decided who should win any early down select

  • @Joe
    Down select probably won’t happen because as long as SAAs are used instead of FAR, $500 million is more than enough to carry several providers (as is evidenced by the number of CC providers operatiing under the current budget). If the amount is cut much less than that, then that will be another story.

  • Bennett

    Joe wrote “Does not sound like a guy that has already decided who should win any early down select”

    It sounds like a guy who is willing to let SpaceX deliver the food and take out the trash, but would choose a powerpoint rocket by any of the old guard (for NASA HSF) without a second thought.

    Ooooh, look at the pretty graphics on that Liberty rocket!

    All of these porkly folks’ statements read that way to me, begrudging and fake.

  • joe

    JohnHunt wrote @ May 23rd, 2012 at 11:31 am
    “Joe, If commercial crew were to be followed with a “Lunar COTS” could you imagine any political situation where increased funding for commercial space would be provided? Is there anything we could do from now until then to make that likely?”

    Starting with a caveat, while I will plead guilty to be having expertise in a number of selected areas, politics is not one of them; but it is an interesting question and I will give it a try.

    I am going to stay away from the whole New Space/Government Space thing that starts so many fights around here because I think there is a more fundamental problem.

    Background on how I arrive at my conclusion. I believe the Moon to be the only currently practical goal for a BEO HSF program at this time. I started out as a big Asteroid enthusiast (as a child after reading the old book Islands in Space by Cole/Cox), but after working on spaceflight operations for a long time came to believe moving directly to asteroid exploration/exploitation is just too big a jump. After the Moon and its resources have been developed to the point of supporting a more advanced in space capability I would hope that such asteroid activity would then take place.

    No matter which approach (Commercial/Government) is taken for a Lunar return the capital costs, time periods to achieve goals, technical risk are such that government money will have to be provided (in one form or another) to make it happen. The problem is that there is no current practical political support for a lunar return:
    - Obama ruled it out with a snarky “we have already been there” (probably for no better reason than his Republican predecessor had proposed it).
    - Romney began ridiculing the idea of a Lunar Base (in the Republican Primaries – based on a book Gingrich has written over 20 years earlier) before Gingrich brought it up.

    Both are too tied into being anti-Moon to easily change their minds and the whole subject just too unimportant to both of them to make that likely.

    So, no (even though I would love to be proven wrong) I do not see how anything is going to happen in the foreseeable future that will make an American Lunar return happen.

  • A M Swallow

    If the Desert-RATS equipment is upgraded to actually work on the Moon firms could be used to perform the upgrade and to manufacture the equipment.

    To find out if life off Earth is viable we have to go and set up that mining village.

  • joe

    Rick Boozer wrote @ May 23rd, 2012 at 12:48 pm
    “Down select probably won’t happen because as long as SAAs are used instead of FAR, $500 million is more than enough to carry several providers (as is evidenced by the number of CC providers operatiing under the current budget). If the amount is cut much less than that, then that will be another story.”

    Like I have said before, I am not going to get into debates outside my area of expertise. I can only say that the congresspersons (or congress critters – if you prefer) and their staffs do not seem to consider that to be the case. If you believe you know more about the contracting arraignments than the people who write the laws governing them, that is certainly your privilege.

  • joe

    Bennett wrote @ May 23rd, 2012 at 1:30 pm
    “It sounds like a guy who is willing to let SpaceX deliver the food and take out the trash, …”

    So that is what you really think of the entire COTS Program. Previously I had been under the impression that the Commercial Space supporters thought COTS was an important and prestigious project.

    But, observe and learn.

  • Bennett

    Joe at 3:19 pm “So that is what you really think of the entire COTS Program.”

    You can distort what I write if it makes you feel good, but no one here buys it. The back-handed congratulations by HBK et al is classic.

  • common sense

    @ Bennett wrote @ May 23rd, 2012 at 4:01 pm

    Your interlocutor @ May 23rd, 2012 at 3:14 pm said this “Like I have said before, I am not going to get into debates outside my area of expertise.”

    FWIW

  • joe

    Bennett wrote @ May 23rd, 2012 at 4:01 pm
    “You can distort what I write if it makes you feel good, but no one here buys it. The back-handed congratulations by HBK et al is classic.”

    Just for the record, I distorted nothing you wrote; in fact I quoted you verbatim. Past that I am not sure what whether or not anyone “here buys it” has to do with anything. Even if that were to be the case what I wrote would still be true or are we deciding what is true by poll now?

  • common sense

    “are we deciding what is true by poll now?”

    Yes yes yes! Let’s poll. It’s in season any way.

    So for example let’s poll if this is any true in your own words “Like I have said before, I am not going to get into debates outside my area of expertise.”

    I vote “False”, anyone?

  • Coastal Ron

    joe wrote @ May 23rd, 2012 at 1:33 pm

    After the Moon and its resources have been developed to the point of supporting a more advanced in space capability I would hope that such asteroid activity would then take place.

    In looking at the priorities laid out by the Future In-Space Operations Working Group (FISOWG or just FISO), which is made up of senior engineers inside and outside NASA, none of their top priorities are linked to mining resources on the Moon. Their top priorities to “Extend and sustain human activities beyond LEO” are:

    1. Radiation Mitigation for Human Spaceflight
    2. Long-Duration Crew Health
    3. ECLSS
    4. GN&C
    5. (Nuclear) Thermal Propulsion
    6. Lightweight and Multifunctional Materials and Structures
    7. Fission Power Generation
    8. EDL TPS

    Sure some of these would be common to living and working on the Moon, but solutions to areas such as the long-term crew health are going to be vastly different on the Moon than they are in space.

    I have no doubt that someday, someone will figure out the value proposition to mining resources on the Moon. But so far mining the Moon is not a widely agreed upon priority for us to ultimately reach Mars, which likely is part of the reason why it’s so hard to keep Congress interested in going back.

  • Bennett

    joe wrote “I distorted nothing you wrote;”

    Ah, but you did. You took what I had inferred from Hall’s statement and painted it as my own feelings about COTS.

    Carry on.

  • Bennett

    common sense wrote @ May 23rd, 2012 at 4:54 pm

    “Yes yes yes! Let’s poll. It’s in season any way. ”

    ;-)

    I vote with you.

  • Kurt Griffith

    The overall tone seems to be that the pols in Crongress want to CONTROL cool stuff happening in in space, that makes them look good. They do like the idea of privatization, and commercial spaceflight.

    “This program brings NASA one more step in the right direction” But of course, they don’t want to PAY for any of it.

    “we still have a long way to go before American astronauts can fly aboard a commercial spacecraft,” but they seem to still like the idea of calling the shots.

  • joe

    Bennett wrote @ May 23rd, 2012 at 5:00 pm
    “Ah, but you did. You took what I had inferred from Hall’s statement and painted it as my own feelings about COTS.“

    Ok, one last pass. I read both Hall and Hutchison’s statements.

    You said: “It sounds like a guy who is willing to let SpaceX deliver the food and take out the trash, …”

    Neither Hall nor Hutchison’s statements used the word “food” or the word “trash” (or any synonym for them). Both were reserved, but complementary. You added the (what you apparently consider to be) derogatory terms “food” and “trash” (though why you would consider those necessary functions demeaning is a mystery).

    As far as I am concerned, we have said about everything that can be said (at least every useful thing) about this subject.

    Have a nice evening.

  • common sense

    @ Bennett wrote @ May 23rd, 2012 at 5:18 pm

    From time to time we need i) silly and/or 2) a good laugh.

    For some reason “space politics” make some people feel self important. Especially the Subject Matter Experts. Space is no laughing matter! Don’t you know? This is serious business. So much so that I would vote for some one proposing a colony on the Moon even if that meant ruining the country in every other way. The last President Bush had one thing right: The VSE. Probably the only thing he came up with that was right (possibly some of his policy about Africa for whatever irrational reason ;) ) Now if we consider everything else he did the US… Whatever.

  • @Joe
    “Like I have said before, I am not going to get into debates outside my area of expertise. I can only say that the congresspersons (or congress critters – if you prefer) and their staffs do not seem to consider that to be the case. If you believe you know more about the contracting arraignments than the people who write the laws governing them, that is certainly your privilege.”
    No “debate” Joe. All I am doing is stating what is happening right now with a good bit less than $500 million. It’s a matter of record.

  • joe

    Rick Boozer wrote @ May 23rd, 2012 at 6:09 pm

    Hi Rick,

    Not trying to start a debate. My point was I am an engineer not a contracting officer, I am familiar with SAA and FAR exactly as much as I need to know to complete an assignment.

    As to what is happening right now I have no idea what your sources are as to how successfully Commercial Crew is proceeding within the current year’s budget. However, I will give you an anecdotal story (vague and not sourced to protect the individuals involved – So you will have to reject it or accept it as you choose).

    An acquaintance recently left a safe civil service job to go to work for Sierra Nevada in GN&C for the Dream Chaser. Moved his family from Texas to Colorado to take the job (he is a real space cadet – and I mean that as a complement). But he is now looking for another job in Defense due to cut backs on work on the Dream Chaser. That after less than a year.

    So I would be careful of glowing reports unless they can be verified.

  • Bennett

    common sense wrote @ 6:06 pm

    The last President Bush had one thing right: The VSE. Probably the only thing he came up with that was right…

    Yeah, I was mesmerized, but it came to naught, thanks to the overwhelming penal envy of Dr. Griffen.

    But hey, who knows what I would do if I had the power to choose, and a small unit.

    :-)

    You’re one of the best. Thanks.

  • Coastal Ron

    joe wrote @ May 23rd, 2012 at 8:47 pm

    But he is now looking for another job in Defense due to cut backs on work on the Dream Chaser. That after less than a year.

    Having never had the luxury of working for an employer that could never fire me or lay me off, this doesn’t indicate much of anything about “New Space” or private industry in general.

    Maybe they cut back his department, or maybe that’s just what he wanted you to believe. Either way, I hope he was able to find another job.

    Regarding CCiCap, NASA plans to announce the winners in the July/August timeframe, which is before Congress has a chance to act on the budget. All of the participants already know what direction Congress is leaning towards, so it shouldn’t take long to figure out who is sticking it out and who isn’t.

    We already know that SpaceX plans to move forward regardless, so if they win one of the CCiCap positions, I would think they would take whatever is awarded and fill in the rest with their own money. Boeing will probably stick it out even if they are not fully funded, and ATK has already said they will continue unfunded if necessary. Rumor has it that Blue Origin is not pursuing CCiCap, and Excalibur-Almaz is unlikely to win.

    I continue to believe that there is a contingent in NASA that would like Dream Chaser to be a finalist (it being the only horizontal lander). If I was going to wager a can of soda for three winners, my guesses would be Boeing, SpaceX and SNC. For two winners, I think it would be SpaceX and Boeing. I don’t see any way NASA would only select one, not without a more substantial threat from Congress.

    Guess we’ll have to wait and see…

  • DCSCA

    “The successful launch of today’s test flight of SpaceX to the International Space Station (ISS) marks the beginning of an exciting new era in space travel,” said Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-PA)…” ““This morning’s launch offers the public a glimpse of what the future holds for space travel and exploration,” said Rep. Bill Posey (R-FL),”

    Except it doesn’t. Launching a satellite in the wake of thousands of others lofted from the Cape over half a century is not a ‘new era in space travel” at all. Just more going in circles in LEO.

    [The] ranking member of the commerce, justice, and science subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee [also said,] “Today’s launch is not just a single venture into space but a change in the trajectory of how we think of space exploration.”

    Except it’s not. Space exploitation is not space exploration, Congressman. And magnifying the importance of yet another orbital satellite launch speaks volumes about how just how short-sighted your vision is and how low the bar of expectations has fallen for American space planners. This was no moon shot, Congressman. This was no Martian probe, Congressman. It is a milk run roughly replicating what Russian Progress spacecraft have been routinely doing for over 34 years- that is, servicing a LEO space platform. LEO is a ticket to no where, Congressmna. It’s going in circles, no place fast. Which is about what we can expect from Congress these days and our space program as well.

  • Justin Kugler

    You do realize that we have to get to LEO before we can go anywhere else, right, DCSCA? Seeing as you’re so fond of reminding everyone that we live in the era of fiscal austerity, I’ll remind you that we have to lower the cost of getting to LEO so that NASA can focus on that exploration you so dearly love.

    COTS, CRS, CCDev, and CCiCap are all steps in that direction. It may not excite you, but it is a necessary function so that NASA will have the resources to build things like SEV or NAUTILUS-X. We can’t keep spending so much of the space operations budget just getting to orbit.

  • common sense

    @ Bennett wrote @ May 23rd, 2012 at 10:13 pm

    “You’re one of the best. Thanks.”

    Thanks you look good too ;)

  • vulture4

    The revolutionary aspect of SpaceX is not its technology, it is the recognition that we need to reduce the cost of human spaceflight. Achieving this cost reduction is very difficult. One SpaceX advance is the recognition that organizational interfaces are a large part of the cost, and that only by keeping operations in-house down to the parts level, were real competition is possible, could these interfaces be minimized.

    “LEO is a ticket to no where”. The moon and Mars are nowhere if we cannot reach them repeatedly, and at an affordable cost. US taxpayers are not going to pay fo $200B joyrides. Conversely, with practical reusable launch systems LEO can indeed be the staging area for flights farther out.

  • vulture4

    As for Congressman Posey, like may others in Congress he has no hesitation about doing everything he can to make Commercial fail and then taking credit for it when it succeeds.

  • Dave

    How did that work out for the USA industry and manufacturing in relation to China? Having a Nationalized interests in the future has ramification more than profits. If we turn Space into a free market venture, the only winners will be China, who will NOT be outsourcing anything to us of value.
    Costs of a government run space program is not an issue . NASA has been woefully underfunded for decades to get us to this point by the very same political forces that think most every thing should privatized regardless of anything but what they believe.

    “The revolutionary aspect of SpaceX is not its technology, it is the recognition that we need to reduce the cost of human spaceflight. Achieving this cost reduction is very difficult. One SpaceX advance is the recognition that organizational interfaces are a large part of the cost, and that only by keeping operations in-house down to the parts level, were real competition is possible, could these interfaces be minimized.”

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