Sunday, September 16, 2012

How Low Can You Go

Click the arrow to watch on YouTube the House hearing on commercial crew.

Last week, Congress held three hearings on various aspects of the government space program.

Space advocates might see that as a hopeful sign that their elected officials are starting to show more interest in space exploration.

But after watching these events, I came away with the impression that these politicians achieved a new narcissistic low even for this session of Congress.

Only one of the three was nominally scheduled to be about the Space Launch System, also known as the "Senate Launch System" or the "Monster Rocket." Yet the SLS was injected into all three hearings, as elected representatives sought assurance that Congress' pet space project was proceeding apace without any delay.

Never mind that the SLS has no missions, no destinations, and no vehicles capable of landing on another world or sustaining a crew on a long-duration space flight.

Some senators and representatives obsessed that the commercial crew and cargo program might be stealing away money from the SLS. Many suggested that commercial vehicles are unsafe, without providing any evidence to support that notion — and ignoring the cold fact that the government space program has lost seventeen lives during its turbulent history.

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) was the only representative who told it like it is.

Let me suggest that no one wants to face the fact that we can't afford to go to Mars now. The bottom line is, in order to have steady funding, we're going to have to defund every other space project that we have! Nobody here wants to face that! Maybe if we're going to provide safety, maybe if we're going to provide reliability and do this professionally, maybe we should set our goals to something we can actually accomplish within the budgets that are possible, without destroying every other aspect of the space program. I think that's what's happening here today. That's what we're really discussing.

Some members complained that commercial crew might not be ready until 2017, yet they totally ignored the fact that it's been delayed two years already because Congress radically cut the commercial crew funding requested by the White House during the last two budget cycles. They complain about the United States relying solely upon Russia to access the International Space Station, but that decision was made in 2004 and the reliance continues because Congress has declined to adequately fund replacement vehicles.

Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD) told NASA executives during the commercial crew hearing that they shouldn't expect adequate funding:

I strongly suggest, I mean, especially in this environment here to pin an estimate of completion and activity based on a hope is a real challenge, I think, for the agency.

Congress can't have it both ways. They can't rail about NASA relying on Russia while at the same time inadequately funding the commercial crew program. It will be a test of Congress' sincerity to see how much they fund commercial crew. We already know they will cut the White House for FY 2013 from $830 million to between $500 million to $525 million. That was after cutting it by more than half for FY 12.

Watching these hearings is like watching the Mad Tea Party from Alice in Wonderland. I provide that for you below to compare with the hearing above to see if you can distinguish any signficant difference between the two.

Click the arrow to watch the Mad Tea Party on YouTube.

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