Responding to what is at least a somewhat manufactured controversy, a key senator said Tuesday that he will continue to support NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) heavy-lift launch vehicle. Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) told the Huntsville Times that he will “continue to fight hard to ensure that taxpayer dollars are invested wisely in SLS so that we maintain our nation’s leadership role in human spaceflight,” according to a statement furnished to the newspaper. Shelby’s statement was apparently prompted by a Wall Street Journal op-ed Monday that called on canceling the SLS and turning over all space transportation systems to the private sector. Shelby noted that “the so-called commercial space industry is funded in large measure by taxpayers through NASA.”
In addition to covering Shelby’s comments, the Times also reported on the “public debate over killing” the SLS, including debate here (even if, in his haste, the reporter misidentified one of the people participating in the comments.) Yet, there’s little, if any, evidence that the Obama Administration is willing to act on the proposal in the original WSJ op-ed to cancel the SLS and expend the necessary political capital to get past SLS supporters like Shelby (who, in addition to being the ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said he plans to serve as ranking member of that committee’s Commerce, Justice, and Science subcommittee, with oversight of NASA’s budget.) However, even without an explicit administration effort to kill SLS this year or later in the president’s second term, pressure from sequestration or other budget-cutting initiatives could put the SLS on a collision course with commercial crew or other NASA programs.