The Space Policy Battle Continues

The latest, from Henry Vanderbilt and the Space Access Society:

NASA Exploration Funding: An URGENT Call To Action

Background

We strongly support the new White House space exploration policy. We believe it can gives NASA a meaningful future, as opposed to the dead end the Constellation “Apollo on Steroids” program has become under any reasonably foreseeable budget. (See the Augustine Report.)

The core of the new White House space exploration policy is:
– Getting NASA out of the business of developing and operating its own (massively overpriced relative to both military and commercial vehicles) space transportation.
– Passing full responsibility for basic space access to the US commercial launch sector just as fast as the commercial operators can demonstrate they’re ready.

The several billion per year freed up by doing this, and by retiring Shuttle after this year (as planned since 2004) would be used to refocus NASA on developing new technologies for future space transportation and deep-space exploration (things that have been shorted at the agency for decades), to keeping Station (the nation’s sole and dearly-bought existing space outpost) operating beyond the former 2016 shutdown date, and (once the new more affordable deep-space capabilities are available) to conducting new exploration missions beyond low Earth orbit.

The last few months have seen an organized Congressional effort to derail the proposed NASA reforms, largely for reasons of short-term local political self-interest. The Congressional regional coalition accustomed to seeing NASA exploration funds flow regardless of results is fighting the new policy with everything they’ve got.

Various Congressional committees have voted to reduce the new commercial and research programs by various amounts, giving the money instead to continued NASA booster and crew capsule developments. Briefly, the Senate committee NASA Authorization version diverts roughly half the commercial and research funding to a new in-house NASA heavy booster plus continued NASA crew capsule development. The House committee NASA Authorization version is far worse, diverting almost all the commercial and research funding to in-house NASA booster and capsule work, while also imposing onerous restrictions on commercial efforts both orbital and suborbital. (We have not covered these committee votes in detail because after the first it became obvious the decks were stacked in these committees and we had little chance of affecting those intermediate outcomes.)

Now, however, the House NASA Authorizers are attempting to get their version approved by the full House in a last-second maneuver before the Congress goes on August recess starting Monday the 2nd. An attempt will probably be made to bring HR 5781, the House committee version NASA Authorization bill, to a floor vote tomorrow, Friday July 30th. (Other unrelated Congressional business could prevent this, but that’s not something to count on.) The attempt if made will be under “suspension of the rules”, a streamlined procedure that limits debate and doesn’t allow any amendments. The only choice is, up or down, pass HR 5781 or reject it.

We and many others think HR 5781 should be rejected. “Suspension of the rules” also requires a 2/3rds majority to pass a bill, so there is a good chance that constituent pressure (that’s you!) on Congressmen in general can either delay this attempt till after August if the votes aren’t there, or defeat it outright.

Action

If you are reading this before east coast close-of-business July 30th (the earlier in the day the better, before 9 am is best), please call your Congressman. If you know their name, you can call the House switchboard at (202) 224-3121 and ask for their office. (If you don’t know who your Congressman is, go to here and enter your home zipcode.) Once through to their office, let the person who answers know you’re calling about HR 5781, the NASA Authorization. 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 your Congressman to oppose this version of the NASA Authorization. Give one or two reasons briefly (e.g., that you support full funding for NASA Commercial Crew and full funding for NASA space exploration technology, that you are very much against any new in-house NASA booster development as very likely being a massive waste of taxpayer dollars, to support the US commercial launch industry, to enhance our national technological competitiveness, to support the President’s NASA policy, to address the NASA problems pointed out by the Augustine Commission and restore NASA’s ability to usefully explore, etc). Answer any questions they may have as best you can, then politely sign off.

We will likely be seeing more action on this as the year goes on. Keep an eye out for further Updates. Thanks for helping!

If you haven’t called yet, you can still do it tomorrow.

Pushback In The House

It looks like (contrary to the idiotic claims that there was “widespread opposition” in Congress to the new direction for human spaceflight) Bart Gordon is having trouble selling his porkfest to “aggrieved” representatives outside the committee:

In a July 21 letter to Gordon, 13 California Democrats urged the committee to restore funding for commercial crew and cargo initiatives and exploration technology programs requested in Obama’s 2011 spending plan.

“These reductions will have a serious effect on California’s workforce and economy, and that of many states,” states the letter, which was spearheaded by Rep. Anna Eshoo, a Silicon Valley Democrat who has worked closely with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on energy and technology policy initiatives in Congress. “These are areas that should be the cornerstone of NASA’s new direction because they will drive innovation and job creation across the nation.”

It’s nice to see the California delegation finally acting like they give a damn about space, after all of the jobs they allowed NASA to move to Florida, Alabama and Texas in the nineties. I assume that some of this is a result of successful lobbying by SpaceX.

Biting Commentary about Infinity…and Beyond!