Congress, NASA

Nelson argues for commercial crew, Brooks and Shelby seek more money for SLS

As relations between the United States and Russia continue to be strained by the crisis in Crimea, Congress is being briefed on its potential implications for space activities, a key member of Congress said late Monday.

“NASA officials have been briefing some members of Congress over the last few days on U.S. plans and options should relations between the two nations deteriorate,” states a press release issued by the office of Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), chairman of the space subcommittee of the Senate Commerce Committee. The release didn’t specify what those “plans and options” are.

Nelson used the release to argue for “properly” funding NASA’s commercial crew program. “We’ve got to properly fund and support commercial space flight so we can keep our space program alive and well, no matter happens with Russia,” Nelson said in the statement. Nelson’s office said the senator is a “proponent of additional funding” for the program beyond the $696 million it received in fiscal year 2014; the FY2015 budget requests $848 million for the program. The release stated at Nelson will meet with Kennedy Space Center director Bob Cabana Tuesday afternoon “to get the latest updates.”

[A spokesperson for Sen. Nelson emailed Tuesday to clarify that the senator is not seeking to take money from other NASA programs to fund commercial crew, but to increase overall NASA spending to accommodate both commercial crew and SLS/Orion.]

However, commercial crew doesn’t have similar statements of support from other members of Congress. Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL) told the Huntsville Times that while commercial crew is one way to get American astronauts to orbit, the Space Launch System (SLS) “is more important for long-term access and national security,” according to the report.

Brooks was upset with the FY15 budget proposal’s request of $1.38 billion for SLS. “I would like to see SLS receive a minimum of $1.6 billion for vehicle development in FY 2015,” he told the Times. “Anything less than $1.6 billion delays SLS availability.”

Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) has similar views, telling the Times that he feels commercial crew is properly funded despite the growing concerns about access to the ISS should relations with Russia deteriorate. “Vice Chairman Shelby will continue to fight for SLS because it’s the only viable option for America to maintain its leadership role in human space flight,” said a statement provided to the newspaper, referring to Shelby’s position as the top Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee.

42 comments to Nelson argues for commercial crew, Brooks and Shelby seek more money for SLS

  • Hiram

    “the Space Launch System (SLS) ‘is more important for long-term access and national security’”

    I’ve heard a lot of rationale for SLS, but that’s a novel view from Mr. Brooks. Somewhat baffling how SLS assures “long term” access, except that by the time Elon is on Mars, he won’t be screwing around offering space access to NASA. National security? Are we talking very big warheads, or huge recon sats perhaps? Ah, but maybe it’s that you can’t trust South Africans. To Brooks, what SLS assures is probably his electoral prospects, and the long-term access is probably to federal dollars aimed at his district. At least Shelby is making more understandable noises, about leadership in human space flight. SLS will try to promise that that by guaranteeing that we can launch loads of stuff, including humans, at least once every few years. It’s a bit curious that Shelby feels that we have any such leadership to maintain. For a country that can’t launch humans into space, largely thanks to gargantuan launcher projects, federally funded by bulldozing greenbacks, you really have to squint pretty hard to see that leadership.

    • Ben Russell-Gough

      I’m fairly sure that the ‘national security’ argument boils down to partially subsidising ATK’s military motors division via over-inflated costs for SRMs. There was a low-level debate about that at the time of the CxP de-funding and Shuttle close-down. ATK aren’t overtly blackmailing the USG on the subject but the threat is clear.

      • Hiram

        Of course, partially subsidizing ATK for SRMs could happen without developing ginormous ones. Aerojet is doing just fine with Atlas V SRBs. I guess it really comes down to the value of Liberty to the DoD.

  • guest A

    The US and NASA needs access to ISS two years ago. More money for SLS buys nothing since Orion won’t be ready for manned missions for another seven or eight years, and more likely that will slip to another ten years based on how well it has stayed on schedule so far.

    http://www.chron.com/opinion/outlook/article/King-Virtual-abandoning-of-NASA-was-poor-U-S-5320637.php

    Funding commercial crew might get the US access to orbit in a year or 2. Funding either SLS or Orion buys nothing until next decade.

  • So what’s next? Are we going to fight the Russians over who really owns the ISS????

    Using the ISS as corporate welfare for the emerging Commercial Crew companies is an extreme waste of tax payer money! There won’t even be enough manned spaceflight traffic to the ISS from the US side to support more than one company.

    Besides, we don’t need the ISS to do microgravity research. Companies like Bigelow Aerospace are ready to deploy the next generation of– private– microgravity space stations.

    Private space craft need to be going to private space stations. That’s the future. Not the $3 billion a year ISS!

    NASA needs to move beyond its perpetual and unnecessarily expensive LEO programs and start focusing its financial resources on game changing beyond LEO efforts such as deploying artificial gravity outpost at the Earth-Moon Lagrange points and permanent fuel producing outpost on the Moon and Mars.

    Marcel

    • Ben Russell-Gough

      The problem is that you can’t just snap your fingers and have it happen. There will be no investment for private space stations until a commercial crew launch and return system is proven. That isn’t going to happen without a destination. So, the ISS is going to possibly perform an important role in convincing Big Money that Bigelow isn’t a lunatic and that it can be done.

  • amightywind

    There are two camps in American space politics post shuttle: leftist internationalists who pursue their vision of world government on the ISS, and conservatives who want an American focused space program evolved from Apollo. Relations with Russia will get only worse. Access to the ISS will be denied. The internationalists own the space program of the last 5 years. They are wholly responsible for US lack of a space launch capability and the general miserable state of affairs. Time for a change. Cut the Russian modules loose. Abandon ISS and let’s start exploring space again with a properly funded SLS/Orion.

    • Justin Kugler

      Without an international program, we would have lost it all with Columbia. Get a clue. There are not only two options for human spaceflight.

    • vulture4

      Apollo redux will weaken America’s future by increasing our deficit and produce no geopolitical return. We will have to borrow the money from China. Inviting China to join ISS would cost us nothing and will weaken Russia’s position.

      • amightywind

        China has access to western markets but has no more interest in its success than Russia. China gives Putin tacit support. You would be foolishly trodding the same path as we have with Russia. Wait until China seizes more territory in the South China Sea. Fortunately, you view is becoming politically toxic as we speak.

      • @Vulture4,…..I’d much rather see an Apollo “Redux” rather than an ISS Redux!!! THIS has been such a massive fiction being tossed around, that any future attempt at visiting the Moon will get no further in technological ability than the last Apollo mission——–which of course is a gargantuan falsehood!! The increased expedition capabilities that Constellation would have brought on, had the potential of dwarfing whatever took place forty-one years ago! Sure, the beginning missions would resemble Apollo, because we’d of course need to effectively test fly our new hardware.
        Did the Space Shuttle go straight to assembling & servicing a space station, overnight? Of course NOT: they first flew those four mini-sortie flights, of STS-1,2,3 & 4. But then after that, the STS missions flew about a hundred of LEO sortie flights, lasting two weeks or less. The Space Shuttle flight that immediately preceded the MIR dockings, very closely resembled the mission plan of STS-5, of many years before. Think about it: from the 1980′s until the 1990′s , all America did in space with astronauts, was LEO sorties——REPEATEDLY!

        So just what the problem is, with some people, if we initiated a new set of manned Moon landings, is beyond me! That first succesful landing in the future——only the 7th one, in the history of humankind, will almost certainly push the envelope of planetary surface operations. They’d most certainly bring along a rover-car——one which likely could be reused, and later unmannedly sent to another site. If they stayed so much as four days on the Lunar surface, they’d instantly make a record of longest landing surface stay time, ever! Increased technology, with regard to space suits, supply-logistics, & radiation-protection, would yield great long-run gifts towards the future.

    • Coastal Ron

      amightywind said:

      There are two camps in American space politics post shuttle: leftist internationalists who pursue their vision of world government on the ISS…

      Sounds like you support isolationism. Close up the borders and stop trading with everyone, right?

      …and conservatives who want an American focused space program evolved from Apollo.

      Let’s be clear here. Instead of being pro-business, the SLS supporters are anti-private sector, and in favor of government-run solutions.

      That does not sound like what “conservatives” supposed to be for, now does it?

      As to Apollo, the real heritage of the SLS is the Shuttle. It’s just that the people clamoring for an HLV THINK that they are following in the footsteps of Apollo… but they are deluded.

    • Neil Shipley

      The sky’s falling, the sky’s falling.

  • I really wish Alabama would secede from the Union …

  • Dark Blue Nine

    “Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL) told the Huntsville Times that while commercial crew is one way to get American astronauts to orbit, the Space Launch System (SLS) ‘is more important for long-term access and national security’”

    “‘Vice Chairman Shelby will continue to fight for SLS because it’s the only viable option for America to maintain its leadership role in human space flight,’ said a statement provided to the newspaper”

    How can a system that launches only once every two to six years — per its requirements — provide “long-term access” or “national security” or “leadership”?

    http://www.nasaspaceflight.com/2014/03/creating-capability-foundations-nasas-exploration-roadmap/

    Goofy…

    • amightywind

      It provides a capability, access to the moon and its resources, that terrify Putin and the Chinese. That is the land grab they fear, and it is important for the US to make it reality. You cannot deny that NASA is an extension of the military.

      • Hiram

        “You cannot deny that NASA is an extension of the military.”

        You cannot deny that Fedex is an extension of the military.
        … they move key national materiel, and protect it as they do
        You cannot deny that Cessna is an extension of the military.
        … they inspire pilots and bravery
        You cannot deny that Winchester is an extension of the military.
        … they cultivate defensive posture, and even aggressiveness, when necessary
        You cannot deny that Texas A&M is an extension of the military.
        … they live to salute, march, and wear uniforms
        You cannot deny that McDonalds is an extension of the military.
        … they lead platoons that can take the heat (and they also wear uniforms!)

        But NASA? They send humans into space, but the military does not. They look up at celestial objects, and down at mother nature, but the military does not.

      • Dark Blue Nine

        “It provides a capability, access to the moon and its resources”

        No, it doesn’t. Neither SLS nor MPCV can land on the Moon. And there is no direction or funding for a lunar lander.

        And if there was, the SLS production requirement is so low that it could only support a lunar landing once every six years. That provides access to nothing other than a stunt every half-decade.

        “that terrify Putin and the Chinese. That is the land grab they fear”

        Yeah, that’s why Russia is annexing Crimea and China is establishing flight control zones over the South China Sea. Because they’re worried about a lunar land grab.

        Get a grip, you nutjob.

        “You cannot deny that NASA is an extension of the military.”

        Sure I can. And so does the act of Congress that created NASA.

        Don’t make dumb statements on topics you know nothing about.

      • Neil Shipley

        per DBN’s comments, how exactly Windy?

  • You cannot deny that NASA is an extension of the military.

    I can. But then, I’m actually conversant with reality.

  • vulture4

    To return, with some urgency, to reality:
    Senator Nelson just asked for full funding of Commercial Crew and said little to support SLS!!!
    If everybody here can call his office tomorrow and thank him for this brilliant decision it might really have an impact! Call 202-224-5274

    • Ben Russell-Gough

      Yeah, given that Sen Nelson was one of the “midwives” of SLS, this is a huge policy switch from him. Maybe he’s finally realised that reliance on Soyuz is a bit of a risk right now and that SLS/Orion is nothing less than six years away, no matter how much money you pour into its maw.

  • josh

    The only thing Brooks and Shelby care about is pork, end of story. The sensible thing to do would be to cancel SLS and massively boost funding for crew, like yesterday.

    • Call Me Ishmael

      “The sensible thing to do would be to cancel SLS and massively boost funding for crew, like yesterday.”

      Not if you actually want to end up with reduced launch prices. You don’t make something cheaper by throwing money at it. And throwing government money at it is even worse, because of the strings that inevitably accompany it. “Massive” funding for “commercial” crew will cause it to cease being commercial; SpaceX and OSC will become just two more government design bureaus, like Boeing and Lockmart before them.

      In my opinion, continually shaving money off the administration’s proposed budget for commercial crew will prove highly beneficial to privately-funded spaceflight in the long run (although that certainly isn’t the intention of any of the current congressional barbers).

      • vulture4

        I think once you pick the right people you give them the ball and let them run with it. I don’t think we should throw money at Commercial Crew, but we should fully fund the Administration’s request. We can keep SLS/Orion going at a lower level as a slush fund to keep the money from going away, which we can cut whenever we have something important we need, like a Europa orbiter, a solar-electric engine, or basic R&D on new composite structures for aircraft and wind turbines, safer materials for aircraft fuel tanks, fuel cell propulsion for aircraft, zero-loss cryogenic storage, improved earth observation sensors for the ISS, need I go on?

        • Call Me Ishmael

          I think once you pick the right people you give them the ball and let them run with it.

          But who are “the right people” and what are “your” qualifications for picking them?

          If you say “We have decided that you are the ‘right’ people to make our ball; here is your first payment; just let us know if you need any more” . . . nothing could ever go wrong with that, could it?

          If you say “”We have decided that you are the ‘right’ people to make our ball; here is your first payment; there’s more if you need it, but you’ll have to let us watch what you’re doing all the time to make sure you’re not cheating us. And if that means it will cost more, OK.”, that gives the current situation for everything except Commercial Crew.

          If you say “This is the kind of ball we want, and this is what we’ll pay for it. And perhaps we’ll come up with some modest progress payments, but you shouldn’t count on major money until you actually have a ball to deliver” then the “wrong”
          people will eliminate themselves by failing to come up with anything to deliver, at no more than modest cost to you.

          We can keep SLS/Orion going at a lower level as a slush fund to keep the money from going away, which we can cut whenever we have something important we need . . .

          How many time have we managed that so far, in the four (five?) years since the Senate came up with the Senate Launch System?

      • Mader Levap

        “In my opinion, continually shaving money off the administration’s proposed budget for commercial crew will prove highly beneficial to privately-funded spaceflight in the long run”
        So far we got commercial crew launches delayed from 2014/2015 to 2017 thanks to consistent underfunding. I guess you are happy.

        • Call Me Ishmael

          Let’s say I’m content. Yes, I know it will probably take longer with less government funding. But what we end up with will be far more sustainable and considerably cheaper to operate.

  • I’ve an incredibly excellent uncanny feeling I discovered just what I needed

  • vulture4

    Has anybody tried calling Nelson and thanking him for a good decision?

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