It looks like the Senate is moving forward on a NASA authorization bill:
In its current version, the bill would direct NASA to fly one more space shuttle mission in the second half of next year. The bill would also in effect restore full capabilities to the Constellation program’s Orion crew capsule by telling NASA to build a spacecraft that can undertake deep-space missions to destinations like the moon or an asteroid.
In April, President Obama said he wanted to retain the Orion crew capsule after shuttering the Constellation program, but as a stripped-down lifeboat for the International Space Station.
The authorization also directs NASA to start development of a new heavy-lift rocket immediately rather than waiting as late as 2015 in the president’s proposal.
First, the good news. Like Francisco Franco, Ares is still dead.
The bad news: they’re going to waste billions on a heavy lifter, when they don’t even know what its requirements are (other than full employment for the Marshall Space Flight Center). They’re also going to waste money on Orion. On the other hand, these programs will take so long to develop that they’ll probably die of fiscal atrophy before we can waste money attempting to operate either of them, and it will have become clear that they’re unneeded, if they don’t steal all the money from technology development. I wish that I were more sanguine that they won’t do that.
The other problem is that this will complicate commercial crew, because Boeing isn’t going to want to have to compete with a taxpayer-subsidized Orion for their commercial crew capsule. On the other hand, again, it will take a long time to develop, and Boeing may have more immediate customers, such as Bigelow, and they may assume (correctly) that even with the development subsidy, it won’t be competitive for crew transport to orbit or as a lifeboat, even with the reduced launch abort system requirements now that Ares is gone. And SpaceX will continue Dragon development regardless.
Of course, as the article points out, the Senate bill isn’t a done deal yet, nor have they reconciled it with the House, which may have different ideas. So it’s still unclear what the final authorization will say, or even if there will be one this year. If one is to go by history, there won’t be.
Clark Lindsey has more thoughts. He’s (not unexpectedly) unhappy. But given what a disaster this Congress has been on every other front, why would we expect better?