NASA Exploration Funding: The Battle Continues
“No man’s life and property are safe while the legislature is in session.”
– widely attributed to Mark Twain
This is a follow up to our last two Updates, both of them urgent political alerts in the continuing battle over fundamental reform of NASA’s human space exploration program. The good news is, with your help, the last round was a standoff. But the fight is far from over. It’s once again time to get active, if we don’t want to see these reforms sunk without a trace. And this time, we actually have a couple of weeks warning.
State of Play
The House NASA Authorization bill, HR.5781 was up for full House consideration, but was pulled back at the last second when it became clear there was considerable lack of consensus on major provisions. (To every one of you who called your Representative, thanks!) The Senate NASA Authorization, S.3729, meanwhile has been approved by the full Senate. Both House and Senate are now on recess till the week of September 13th.
The Senate version is not great, but is livable, with $3.9 billion overall Exploration funding split as follows: $1.6 billion for NASA development of a new in-line Shuttle-derived heavy-lift launcher, $1.1 billion for continuation of the Orion capsule, and $1.1 billion for the rest of Exploration. That last $1.1 billion includes reduced but still substantial funding for the Commercial Crew, Commercial Cargo, and other new space technology/exploration precursors we support. (S.3729 also fully funds Commercial Reusable Suborbital Research, under another account.) Close to a billion dollars of NASA exploration funding directed toward useful things is hugely better than we would have hoped for coming into this year.
The House version is extremely bad. HR. 5781 is essentially a blueprint for the destruction of NASA human space exploration in the name of saving it.
– Out of a total $4.5 billion Exploration funding, it devotes $4.2 billion to development of a new in-house NASA heavy booster (to be based on existing Ares work) plus a government-owned Station transportation system based on the Orion capsule.
– It makes drastic cuts in funding for developing US Commercial Crew and Cargo to Station capabilities, to a small fraction of NASA’s request.
– It imposes “poison pill” requirements on potential US commercial crew services that neither NASA nor existing Russian crew service providers have to meet.
– It zeroes Exploration Technology and Robotic Precursor Missions funding.
The gutting of Commercial Crew and Cargo budgets, and the Commercial Crew poison pills, will leave us spending hundreds of millions annually for non-US Station transport services for the foreseeable future, and will leave us with no backup should those non-US services have technical or political problems.
The new House-mandated NASA heavy booster and Station-transport Orion get less funding than, but a similar schedule to, what the Augustine Commission already found unworkable for the old Ares/Orion. The issue of what Station-Orion would fly on (2015 operational goal) while waiting for the new heavy lifter (2020 goal) is not even addressed, never mind funded. The odds are extremely poor that these projects would ever amount to anything beyond never-fly jobs programs. Even if the new vehicles do eventually fly, NASA would still have no deep space missions to fly on them, due to this bill’s effective starvation of all other Exploration precursor work.
Pursuing the path implicit in HR.5781 would reduce our nation’s international commercial space competitiveness, would damage our national space technology base, and would destroy NASA’s chances of moving out beyond low orbit in any meaningful way for decades to come.
Our understanding is that they’ll try to pass HR.5781 again right after Congress returns from this recess. There will be three opportunities to fix it: In negotiated modifications before it’s reintroduced to the House, by amendment on the House floor, or by negotiations in the House-Senate conference committee that will reconcile the two versions. The process may move very quickly once Congress is back. We need to prepare the ground now.
Contact your Representative and both your Senators, and ask them to support the Senate version of the NASA Authorization bill, because the House version is unacceptably bad. Get as many of your friends as you can to do it too. Numbers count. We need to make as many of our Representatives and Senators as possible aware of our concerns in the next few weeks, before deals start being made on the final NASA Authorization bill. Start doing it now, don’t wait till the last second. (We may ask you to do it again at the last second – a little repetition does no harm.)
Contact Info for Representative and Senators: If you know their names, you can call the US Capitol switchboard at (202) 224-3121 and ask for their DC office. If you don’t know who your Representative is, go to http://www.house.gov/zip/ZIP2Rep.html and enter your home zipcode. (You may need the 9-digit version.) For Senators listed by state, go to http://www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm
Once through to their office, let the person who answers know you’re calling about the NASA Authorization bill. They may switch you to another staffer (or that staffer’s voicemail) or they may take the call themselves. (If you’re calling after-hours or they’re getting a lot of calls, you may go directly to a voicemail.)
Regardless, tell them you want (Representative/Senator TheirName) to support the Senate version of the NASA Authorization, because the House version has major problems.
Briefly give one or two reasons you support the Senate version…
– it provides adequate funding for NASA Commercial Crew and Cargo
– it supports US rather than foreign crew and cargo service providers
– it provides some funding for new NASA exploration technology
– it enhances our national technological competitiveness
– it partially addresses the NASA problems pointed out by the Augustine Commission and begins to restore NASA’s ability to usefully explore
– it supports the President’s NASA policy
…then a reason why you oppose the House version – see the bullet points in the HR.5781 paragraph above. Then answer questions (if any) as best you can, and politely sign off.
OK, that’s the basic version. Some of you may want to get more involved in this effort than making a few quick phone calls. Letters and faxes are great! (Emails much less so; you know how much spam you get – now imagine the amount a Congressman gets. Better to phone than to email.) Keep letters to one page, state your basic point (Dear Representative/Senator TheirName, I am writing to request that you support the Senate NASA Authorization, since the House version is very, very bad…) in the first sentence of the first paragraph, then go into a paragraph or two of supporting detail, then politely wrap up. Faxes may be slightly better than paper mails in that they arrive faster and more reliably – if you are going to paper-mail a letter, do it early so it has time to get through the security checks.
And for you real self-starters out there, your Representative and Senators are on recess, and will probably spend some time back at home with the voters in the next few weeks.
– You can show up at a “town hall” and get in line for the microphone with your request ready (“I’m worried about the future of NASA. I’m here to ask that you support the Senate version of this year’s NASA Authorization bill, because the House version has serious problems”) plus an example or two to give if you get the time.
– You can call their local office and try to set up an appointment to meet your legislator (or an appropriate staffer) and spend a few minutes making the case in person. If you do, we strongly recommend you study up on the details, do the whole well-groomed businesslike and courteous thing, practice making your case in less than the allotted time, and unless they keep you longer with questions, depart on-time gracefully.
– You can come up with some other way entirely to let them know what you, their constituent, want. We haven’t come close to covering all the conventional effective methods here. Just remember though, if you’re thinking of getting creative – keep it legal, keep it safe, make VERY sure it gets the point across unmistakably clearly – we’ve seen way too many political messages delivered so cleverly that nobody else can tell what the message is – and make SURE it doesn’t make us all look like flakes (way too easy when we’re talking space) or annoy people counterproductively. (Simple parameters, yeah, we know…) Then let us know how you did it!
There’s one other very effective way you can help out, if you can be in Washington DC for a few days around the start of the week of September 13th: Some of our DC colleagues are very likely to be organizing citizen lobbyist visits on Capitol Hill early that week. We plan to support their efforts. More on that as soon as we know more.
What it comes down to is, if we care about US space commercial and technical competitiveness, if we want to see NASA with some hope of going new and interesting places anytime soon, we need to keep at this, and we need to get more organized about it. To that end, if you do make a call, send a letter, or otherwise deliver the message, afterwards please email us at email@example.com, with “contact” in the email title, and describe briefly who you contacted, how you contacted them, and what (if any) response you got? (If you don’t want to go onto our mailing list for Updates, be sure to mention that.) Thanks!
Now go get ’em.
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