Congresspersons, Astronaut Sound Off (Again) on Space

All right, everyone, it’s time again to find out what the people who write the checks–and Scott “Doc” Horowitz, veteran spaceman and inside-man at ATK, the company that makes the Space Shuttle’s Solid Rocket Boosters–think about space exploration.

First up is Representative Pete Olson (R-Texas), who is less than pleased with the direction Obama wants NASA to go. He advocates for a re-adoption of Constellation, and a reorientation of the first goal (i.e., a return to the lunar surface). He also notes–as many have–that the $40 million fund for assisting NASA employees during the transitional period should not be spent solely on Floridian employees (I believe that last element has been formally addressed).

In my opinion, it’s obvious that Rep. Olson cares about the space program. After all, a return of Constellation–something that I think needs at least a cursory examination, especially regarding the Ares V heavy lift vehicle (why wait five more years?)–does not mean a return to the Moon. Why support such a thing, when going to the moon or not doesn’t change the need for NASA employees? Sure, perhaps going to the Moon utilizes astronauts and Mission Control employees sooner, but the principle use for them is in the manned missions that are already set to go to the ISS before anybody heads towards the Moon again.

And I won’t begrudge Mr. Olson for wanting to protect his constituents’ jobs. It’s the purpose of individuals in a representative government to represent one’s constituents to the government at large.

So Mr. Olson is advocating a return of the Constellation program. Perhaps unsurprisingly, so is Scott J. “Doc” Horowitz, four-time Shuttle astronaut and former ATK executive. As a current member of the Mars Society, you might expect him to be positively giddy about the proposed plan to reach Mars in the 2030’s.

However, a quick read of this blog post says differently:

“The fact is, that with the FY 2011 top-line budget submit (the best top-line budget NASA has had since the inception of Constellation) there are plenty of funds available for NASA to complete Ares I/Orion by 2015 and to return astronauts to the moon by 2022 using the Ares V as a first step to moving further out into the solar system (NEOs, Mars, LeGrange Points, etc.)”

In the post, Dr. Horowitz evaluates what he sees as some of the myths surrounding this whole budget debacle, including that famous phrase “unsustainable trajectory”. He believes that the Augustine Commission, a blue-ribbon panel of knowledgeable persons in the field that the Obama administration assembled last year, was “populated with as few people that know anything about real development programs as possible, and have agendas aligned with the desired outcome.” On top of that, he cites misleading data and assumptions that contributed to the idea that Constellation was a dead weight around the agency’s neck.

However, he is a “big fan of commercial space”–as might be expected, given his post-NASA experiences with ATK. However, he believes that private companies such as Rocketplane Kistler and SpaceX will not be able to meet the three fundamental purposes of the COTS (Commercial Orbital Transportation Services) contracts that are supposed to guarantee them, namely getting int orbit sooner, safer, and cheaper.

Interestingly, as recently as May 2009, NASA would have agreed with him. Interesting, eh?

From the other side of the aisle (just so you don’t think that the Republicans are the only ones raising a fuss on Capitol Hill) comes Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Arizona), who in this article agrees that:

“[u]nfortunately, the president’s budget did not offer a serious path to realizing those dreams [of exploration]. Instead the administration produced a plan that will rely on Russian Soyuz spacecraft to ferry American astronauts to the International Space Station.”

She, too, feels that the new plan lacks vision and specificity, and potentially “condemns us to a future of paying Russia for this service, so Russia can pursue its exploration goals.”

Do not be swayed by my simplistic summation of her article, dear reader. Indeed, she is clearly a supporter of space exploration. She, like many of us, simply believes–or so it seems to me–that the new plan is too hasty:

“We should encourage a commercial space industry and when it is mature and ready and demonstrably safe, we should transfer the burden of low-Earth orbit spaceflights to the commercial sector so NASA may focus on exploration.”

Agreed, of course.

More quotes of hers that I like:

“We cannot continue to argue between the president’s plan and the status quo. There must be a third way.”

And:

“It is my goal that the United States remains the leader in human spaceflight. I have every expectation that our astronauts will make the first human trips to an asteroid, deep into space and ultimately to Mars. We just need the right plan with the right budget. We can do this.”

I’d like that second sentence there to contain more about the Moon, but I know the spirit in which it was written, and cannot help but agree.

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