Monday, December 27, 2010
Alabama senator Richard Shelby was named Porker of the Month last June by Citizens Against Government Waste. Now the Orlando Sentinel cites him as the primary cause of a $500 million boondoggle in the NASA budget.
The Orlando Sentinel reports that “Thanks to congressional inaction, NASA must continue to fund its defunct Ares I rocket program until March — a requirement that will cost the agency nearly $500 million at a time when NASA is struggling with the expensive task of replacing the space shuttle.”
At the root of the problem is a 70-word sentence inserted into the 2010 budget — by lawmakers seeking to protect Ares I jobs in their home states — that bars NASA from shutting down the program until Congress passed a new budget a year later ...
The language that keeps Constellation going was inserted into the 2010 budget last year by U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby, an Alabama Republican who sought to protect the program and Ares jobs at Marshall Space Flight Center in his home state.
2010 was a year of great political debate over the future of the government's space program. The Obama administration challenged the space-industrial complex, proposing to switch development of Low Earth Orbit (LEO) access vehicles from the government to the private sector.
Members of Congress howled — or perhaps, the more appropriate word is oinked — because they realized Obama was cutting off the pork they've long funnelled back to their home districts.
In the Senate, representatives from space center districts and/or major NASA contractors can be found on the Science and Space Subcommittee, although the real action is on the Appropriations Committee. The former legislates policy, but the latter directs money, and it's on the latter where you'll find some of the most shameless porkers.
In addition to Shelby, you'll also find Utah senator Bob Bennett, home to ATK. According to the Orlando Sentinel article, about $165 million of the $500 million “will go to Alliant Techsystems, or ATK, which has a $2 billion contract to build the solid-rocket first stage for the Ares I, the rocket that was supposed to fill the shuttle's role of transporting astronauts to the International Space Station.” According to Bennett's Senate web site, “As a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Bennett works to balance fiscal discipline in government while representing the needs of Utah in the distribution of federal funds.” That sentence drips with irony.
The Sentinel article continues:
The new NASA plan — developed after months of debate between Congress and the White House — favors an Ares I-type design by requiring use of "shuttle-derived" components, including solid-rocket motors. But some NASA engineers — and, reportedly, Shelby, reflecting the preferences of engineers at Marshall — favor a liquid-fueled rocket.
Such a rocket, they say, would be cheaper, more powerful and safer. A 2009 Air Force report warned that astronauts "will not survive" an explosion of the Ares I rocket during launch because flaming chunks of solid fuel would melt the parachutes of the escape system.
Perhaps the singular achievement by SpaceX with its December 8 launch and orbit of the Dragon spacecraft is to show what American engineering can still accomplish when freed of Congressional shenanigans.
Imagine what SpaceX, Orbital, Boeing or one of the other Commercial Crew Development applicants could do with that $500 million which will do nothing except keep on life-support a brain-dead government jobs program.