Florida Today space columnist John Kelly writes, "It’s beginning to look more and more like the Atlas V rocket is going to one day carry astronauts into Earth orbit."
Transitioning Atlas V from launching satellites and robotic space probes to delivering people to the International Space Station would represent a major breakthrough in cooperation among the nation’s private, military and civilian space interests.
That level of cooperation, leveraging existing, successful space assets, is going to be critical to fielding a space program that makes steady progress, stays on schedule, and comes in on budget. It was super-critical to the rapid, successful ramp up of the early human spaceflight program, built upon the transition of launch technology first employed by the military.
Kelly concludes by asking an obvious question — if the Atlas V is so reliable, then why is Congress funding a government rocket?
Continued positive movement down the path to flying humans on today’s Atlas V will only make more urgent this question: Why would the United States not build upon that success and pursue the heavy-lift model instead of yet again investing billions of dollars and more than a decade starting from scratch on the proposed government super-rocket?
If the NASA rocket development program doesn’t have measurable progress by the time the first people are flying on Atlas V or SpaceX’s Falcon 9, then the questions from taxpayers and elected officials are going to be focused keenly on why NASA is spending money on its own vehicle.
Kelly chose not to answer his question, but I will.
Congress directed NASA to build Space Launch System to direct government pork back to their districts.