A New Space Policy Action Alert

I just received this via email:

To Americans Supporting Real Reform of NASA’s Human Exploration Program
Last night the House Science & Technology Committee launched a final desperate defense of Constellation and attack on commercial crew.  This House committee is proposing a misleadingly named “compromise bill,” which in fact would cut commercial crew funding, place 24 separate restrictions on commercial crew, and opens the door to continuing Ares I. (More details on this still-flawed bill are at the bottom of this alert.)

But there is a bigger problem with this last minute “compromise”. Because the House bill is so different from what the Senate already passed, the Senate probably can’t pass this bill before the election, if ever… leaving NASA with no direction until December, or perhaps even next year. This means more drift for human spaceflight, more money wasted paying Constellation contractors enough to stay alive, but not building anything (at least not anything worth building).  And it means more months of delay while important new initiatives, like exploration technology and commercial crew are NOT quickly ramped up.  New jobs NOT being created.   Our future NOT being invented. 

There’s only one solution to this mess. The House should simply pass the better Senate bill, S3729. We need your help TODAY to make that happen.
Call your Congressman TODAY.  Ask them to vote against House bill HR5781 or any House-written NASA Authorization bill if it comes to the floor this Friday or next week, and instead vote to pass Senate bill S3729 before the House recesses for the election.
If your Congressman is a Democrat, ask them to contact Majority Leader Hoyer in opposition to any NASA bill other than Senate bill S3729 coming to the floor, and to request that S3729 be brought to the floor for an up or down vote next week.
If your Congressman is a Republican, ask them to contact Minority Whip Eric Cantor in opposition to any NASA bill other than Senate bill S3729 coming to the floor, and to request that S3729 be brought to the floor for an up or down vote next week.


Why the deceptively-named “House compromise bill” is harmful to America’s future in space

The “tweaked” version of HR5781:
…mandates 24 separate restrictions on the development of commercial crew, which is THREE TIMES more restrictions than the Senate bill. 
…it combines funding for Commercial Crew and Cargo into one pot and cuts the total by 33% from the Senate bill and by 51% from the President’s request. In fact, depending on how the funds are allocated, commercial crew could wind up being cut as much as 80% from the President’s request.
…added together, that will delay new commercial human spaceflight capabilities by years, extending our dependence on Russia, postponing improved access to the ISS for scientists and engineers to do research, and pushing off Americans’ chances to fly into orbit on an American rocket. 
…tweaks the heavy-lift language of the Senate bill to allow NASA to continue developing Ares I if the agency wanted to, all in a desperate ploy to continue the unsustainable Constellation program as is.
…it then goes on to tell NASA to give Congress 30 days notice before terminating or allowing any Constellation contracts to lapse, and gives special dispensation to the Ares solid rocket motors.
…which is pure pork legislative sausage, for just one company. 

For the House to even consider slowing down opening the space frontier so it can prop up one company is disgraceful. The Senate bill isn’t perfect, but it’s much better than this phony compromise. The House should just swallow their pride and pass S.3729.

Also, via email, Andrew Langer, head of the Institute for Liberty says:

A) Does the half-a-billion dollar education budget include junkets to Saudi Arabia?
B) The increased money for commercial is an insulting tip-o’-the-hat which doesn’t address the underlying concerns with the direction of NASA policy.

The whole thing seems like a rushed attempt to sweep past what Congressional leadership didn’t think was going to be a bill that would be fought. It demonstrates that they fail to understand the nature of parochial politics (ie, all politics is personal), and they have a real tin ear to what the public is upset about.

Just one more example of the dysfunctionality of space policy for the past half century.

[Update a few minutes later]

There’s more on the “compromise” over at Space Politics and Space Transport News.

[Update a few more minutes later]

I should note that the reason I use the word “compromise” in quotes is because it isn’t really. That is, it is not the product of the negotiations with the Senate, but rather a new House bill that was somewhat influenced by those discussions. From the standpoint of reaching agreement with the upper house, it is in no way an improvement on the previous effort. That is, it will still probably be dead on arrival in a conference. It’s really just a last desperate attempt for the House to get its rattle back, and it will probably result in months more of uncertainty for the agency.

[Update a while later]

The Space Access Society (i.e., Henry Vanderbilt) has their own alert out:

URGENT NASA Funding Battle Action

In a surprise move, the House parties to the ongoing House-Senate negotiations over a NASA Authorization bill have unilaterally come up with a substitute version of their original (and very bad) HR.5781. This new version of HR.5781 may be voted on as soon as tomorrow, Friday 9/24. After a quick review of the new bill text, we strongly urge you to IMMEDIATELY contact your Representative and ask them to reject HR.5781 and instead approve the Senate version S.3729.

Briefly, the Senate bill is an acceptable compromise between the White House’s NASA reform proposals and the House Science Committee’s attempt to preserve the untenable Ares/Orion status quo. This new bill from the House Science Committee does roughly split the difference between the Senate’s (already marginal) Crew/Cargo and R&D funding numbers and the old House version’s totally unacceptable numbers, and is in that sense a “compromise.”

However, this new version of HR.5781 places a whole tangle of reviews, reports, certifications, and other requirements on Commercial Crew, the general effect of which cannot be other than to discourage such efforts. It retains specific Commercial Crew poison pill requirements that neither NASA nor existing Russian providers have to meet. It retains the old version’s general support for continued development of something a lot like Ares/Orion, and (assuming that it ever even flies at the reduced-yet-further-from-Augustine-minimums funding) it effectively then allows government competition with US commercial crew vendors via an “if practicable” escape clause on its “prohibition” of such competition.

All that aside, it is our understanding that, while this version reflects some of the previous negotiations with the Senate, it was NOT run past or approved by the Senate parties. It is a unilateral move by the House Science Committee to preempt the process, and as such it will inevitably lead to more months of Congressional wrangling, more months of NASA paralysis and drift, increased vulnerability of NASA Exploration to the Deficit Reduction Commission’s attentions, and more months of massive uncertainty for the workers and organizations involved.

Enough is enough. We think it’s time to settle on the Senate compromise, resolve this matter, and move forward.

What To Do

We ask that you call your Representative’s DC office (go to http://www.house.gov/zip/ZIP2Rep.html for their name and party, and call them via the US Capitol switchboard at (202) 224-3121), TODAY if at all possible and overnight or by early Friday morning at latest, and (politely!) tell the person you end up talking to (most likely a staffer or a staffer’s voicemail) the following:

Ask them to vote against House bill HR.5781 (or any House-written NASA Authorization bill) if it comes to the floor this Friday or next week. Ask them to instead vote to pass Senate bill S.3729 before the House recesses for the election.

– If your Representative is a Democrat, ask them to contact Majority Leader Hoyer in opposition to any NASA bill other than Senate bill S.3729 coming to the floor, and to request that S.3729 be brought to the floor for an up or down vote next week.

– If your Representative is a Republican, ask them to contact Minority Whip Eric Cantor in opposition to any NASA bill other than Senate bill S.3729 coming to the floor, and to request that S3729 be brought to the floor for an up or down vote next week.

– If your Congressman is a strong supporter of the House bill – Bart Gordon, Gabrielle Giffords, Alan Grayson, etc – politely explain that you strongly support S.3729, the Senate NASA Authorization bill, and you’d like them to also, because it’s a reasonable compromise between the White House and House positions, and because NASA really needs an Authorization to let it begin moving forward again.

thanks for your time

Henry Vanderbilt
for Space Access Society

[Early afternoon update]

My sources in the Beltway are now saying that the House just tried to do a new compromise of the “compromise” on the Senate hotline, and were rebuffed with the message, “our bill or no bill.” So they continue to play chicken. That is, the only way there will be an authorization bill this session is for the House to bring to the floor and pass the Senate bill. As Henry Vanderbilt notes in comments, this is the best outcome in terms of allowing NASA to move forward, but it’s not looking very likely.

[Update a few minutes later]

The Space Frontier Foundation has put out their own action alert.

16 thoughts on “A New Space Policy Action Alert”

  1. Rand, if I understood you correctly, the other day you were saying that no bill would probably be best. Is that still your preference? I’m not sure anymore myself as I’m hearing conflicting opinions from commercial space advocates. I think I still prefer a clean CR, provided Obama intends to continue Griffin’s scorched earth policy, which is far from certain.

  2. I made my calls in support of the Senate bill, but then I have been supporting it since it was drafted.

  3. There has been an ongoing debate for months over the relative merits of no bill versus the Senate bill in the loose cabal of NASA reform supporters I’ve been working with. FWIW, the consensus has been swinging toward the Senate bill in recent days. From a draft Update rendered obsolete by this morning’s house surprise:

    – The Senate NASA Authorization isn’t perfect, but it’s pretty good. Passing it would nail down some major fundamental changes for the better at NASA. The agency would be committed to commercial crew and cargo transport. If (as seems likely) the Shuttle-based HLV development at some point bogs down, the option to pursue HLV commercially at far lower cost would be available. Significant new space and exploration R&D programs would be established. Commercial Reusable Suborbital Research (CRuSR) would be fully funded.

    – Passing the Senate Authorization will allow NASA to get rolling on the new course, rather than sit around still more months waiting for a definite direction. It would resolve the current huge uncertainties for a lot of the individuals and organizations involved, allowing them to start making sensible plans again.

    – No Authorization leaves it all in the hands of the Appropriators. They probably won’t have time before the election to add any detailed NASA funding direction to the inevitable Continuing Resolution. When they eventually do, the process might well be hasty and the results unpredictable. For whatever length of time NASA is left to run on a vanilla CR, the results are even more unpredictable.

    – One bad result of no Authorization and vanilla-CR Appropriation would be increased NASA vulnerability to cuts from the Deficit Commission. Billions of dollars in NASA Exploration funding with no firm plan attached could be an irresistable target for budget axe-work.

    – Another bad result of no Authorization could be the revisiting of the whole issue next year, under a new Congress of somewhat unpredictable composition, with further delay and ambiguity for all involved, and no guarantee things wouldn’t get worse not better.

  4. I wasn’t counting when I read through Title 4 of the new bill, so I can’t say for sure “24” – maybe they were also looking at restrictions embedded by reference, like that “Class A payloads” ref? (That one calls for 14 successful flights in a row before any NASA astronaut steps on board, which while theoretically admirable sure exceeds NASA’s standards for their own vehicles.)

    Regardless, that sure is a tangle of reports, reviews, certifications, and requirements there, isn’t it? I’m a bit surprised they didn’t insist any Commecial Crew vehicle also have a favorable feng shui reading before any contract is signed while they were at it…

  5. …14 successful flights in a row before any NASA astronaut steps on board.

    Why not 50? Since we’re pulling a number out of the air, a number that has NEVER been met by any NASA LV, why not pick one that kills any possibility of a non-NASA LV?

    I can’t wait to see how many successful launches their HLV is expected to complete before a “NASA astronaut” climbs in for a ride to orbit.


  6. That “class A” high-value payload requirement called out in the House bill for Commercial Crew is an actual existing spec – one that applies to payloads like multi-billion-dollar one-of-a-kind planetary probes. They’re supposed to be launched on boosters that are demonstrably above-average reliable, and the listed criteria for that is14 trouble-free flights in a row.

    Interesting that NASA had scheduled a crew for the second-ever flight of Ares 1/Orion, and never came close to meeting this for any previous NASA manned launcher either… Yet the House bill calls it out for any possible commercial crew service.

  7. I called my Congressman’s DC office this afternoon. The staffer who answered the phone didn’t sound surprised to hear from me.

  8. I stopped by my Reps local office today and said my piece. Told them to get Hoyer to offer the Senate version and that both House version were fatally flawed.

  9. NASA is in for a reduction in budget that will render them all
    but irrelevant. Did you not realize that the new mission was Muslim outreach? AriesI/Orion , or any innovation will be secondary to this purpose. NASA will go the way if the dinosuar by being unloved and

  10. Warlord,

    Nasa’s mission is whatever the authorization from Congress says it is. Iead of bitching, why don’t you join us and support the Senate bill if you are worried about this outreach BS instead of spouting that same chicken-little stuff I have heard for 35 years?

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