Congress, NASA

At hearing, senator presses aerospace industry to be more vocal about shutdown’s effects

Friday afternoon’s hearing by the Senate Commerce Committee on the effects of the shutdown on various agencies under its purview, including NASA, didn’t yield may new insights about the effects of the shutdown or a solution to it; at times, it was primarily a platform for committee members to vent about the shutdown (particularly since, for much of the hearing, attendance was dominated by Democratic members as Republican senators were returning from a meeting at the White House.)

During the hearing, committee chairman Sen. Jay Rockefeller IV (D-WV) released a report discussing the effects of the shutdown on those agencies. The NASA section of the report discussed the potential delays the shutdown could cause for satellite programs, including the scheduled launch next January of the next TDRS data relay satellite, as well as financial difficulties some NASA contractors are facing. The section on NOAA’s weather satellite program warns the shutdown will exacerbate a projected gap in weather satellite services by delaying the next-generation satellites under development.

Marion Blakey, president and CEO of the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA), also outlined the effects the shutdown of most NASA activities was having. “NASA is operating… with a skeleton crew,” she said. Work by various companies on “high visibility” NASA programs has been largely unaffected by the shutdown, she said, “due to very smart prior planning on the part of industry and NASA,” but warned they are “on borrowed time” and work will slow or stop if the shutdown continues. She added that the shutdown has also delayed the processing of launch license applications at the FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation. “This is burdening companies that are already risking their own capital to restore America’s launch leadership and help NASA become independent of Russia for crew launch.” Her prepared statement goes into some greater detail on the shutdown’s effects on NASA in particular.

While Blakey and other witnesses called for an end to the shutdown, her comments weren’t enough for one member of the committee. After Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) saids that he appreciated “the restraint of the panel” of witnesses as they described the effects of the shutdown, Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) chimed in. “I don’t appreciate the restraint of the companies,” he said, arguing that they weren’t putting enough pressure on key members of Congress to resolve the shutdown. He singled out Blakey and the members of her industry association. “When I have talked to your CEOs, and have asked them if they have gone and talked to the members of Congress who are causing the shutdown, they haven’t,” he said, asking if she had talked to members to ask them if they knew the impacts the shutdown was having.

“The short answer is yes,” she said, noting that the AIA had a delegation of industry officials, including some from small businesses, who met with members of the House and Senate recently. “I can’t, of course, account for every one of our CEOs’ appointments up here on a daily basis, but I can also testify that they are spending a great deal of time making certain that people understand” the effects of the shutdown.

Nelson, though, pressed for more action from Blakey and her organization’s members. “I met with two of your CEOs last week, and they were not ready to step up and go talk to the leadership in the House of Representatives that were allowing this shutdown to continue,” he said. “Where are the people that are so affected at the Johnson Space Center in Houston? Where are they going to the congressional delegation and talking to them… You need to put a fire under your executives.”

7 comments to At hearing, senator presses aerospace industry to be more vocal about shutdown’s effects


    “During the hearing, committee chairman Sen. Jay Rockefeller IV (D-WV)…”

    This is the same Rockefeller who said to the faces of Cernan and Armstrong he did not support HSF at a Senate hearing a few summers ago.

    • Hiram

      “This is the same Rockefeller who said to the faces of Cernan and Armstrong he did not support HSF at a Senate hearing a few summers ago.”

      That same one. What he said was “I am not a huge, but I am a substantial, skeptic of human spaceflight.”

      Of course, what he isn’t a substantial skeptic about is “NASA’s exploration programs to every planet in the solar system”, nor is he a skeptic about “multiple successful robotic missions to the surface of Mars”, or even “the International Space Station (ISS), widely regarded as the most complex engineering project ever endeavored.” He isn’t skeptical about NASA and space exploration in general.

      The way I interpret Rockefeller’s comment was that his substantial skepticism was about the current value of human spaceflight which, in truth, is something that is commonly wrestled with these days. We didn’t wrestle with its value during the Cold War, which is what made Armstrong and Cernan real heroes. He isn’t being disrespectful to their faces.

      He went on … “I cannot support going into space as an end in and of itself. I agree with the President that we need a measured, nationally, globally relevant and sustainable human space flight program — not one solely bound by place and time in space.”

      He also made the point that there are many ways we explore, and not all of them necessarily have to be “glorious”.

      Smart words.

      Of course, it should be understood that although NASA doesn’t have a center in WVa, the investment in that state is quite substantial, especially through the software IV&V effort in Fairmont. But that work is hardly HSF-specific.

  • Andrew French

    Senator Nelson is a bully. As a U.S. Senator, he is more responsible for this fiscal mess than any of these witnesses – yet he berates them for not lobbying hard enough to clean up the mess he helped create. This is how he operates. He bullied the Administration into hiring Charlie Bolden and into keeping him, despite his total incompetance. He bullied the Administration into supporting an outgoing Republican Senator (KBH) and cutting valuable programs such as technology and commercial crew, in order to re-instate the wasteful Constellation program in the form of SLS/Orion. The American people would now vote overwhelmingly to throw out the entire Congress. The space program would be in much better shape without these clowns.

  • amightywind

    The aerospace industry would be more vocal about the harm the shutdown is causing, but they are currently sunning themselves on an unexpected vacation, secure in the knowledge that they will receive full back pay. The misery pimps on the left sicken me…

  • Senator Nelson,

    You have us SLS and then didn’t deliver funding. You have underfunded every single project at NASA except for JWST.

    How dare you ram SLS/Orion down our throats, underfund us, and then get pissed off because we didn’t lobby enough to clean up the mess. You are the mess – not the industry or the American people.

    The Congress is the mess. And just so people understand, “The Congress” is the US House of Representatives AND the Senate. ITS BOTH.

    Hey Bill, how about you call up Harry and your buddies in the Senate, get off your rears, and pass some bills on the floor of the Senate – hell how about holding a vote?

    Full disclosure – we could have a bill to fund NASA, just like the VA, Parks, Ect but until the Senate moves – nothing is going to happen. And that is the reality of it all.

    • Sorry – typo – should read:

      You have us SLS and then didn’t deliver funding.

    • Vladislaw

      Underfund? 30 plus BILLION for the rocket, 16.5 BILLION for a disposable capsule… 3.5 BILLION per launch… that you would propose that the pork rocket is underfunded is ..well .. insane.

      spacex said 2.5 billionm, Boeing 6.5 billion and Lockheed Martin 6 billion.

      The fact that taxpayers are getting screwed, hell not just screwed, ROYALLY screwed by this nightmare boondoggle is bordering on the criminal. NASA needs to get out of the transportation and development business.

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