Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Rocket in Nelson's Pocket

An Associated Press video clip of Senator Bill Nelson demonstrating his "monster rocket." Click the arrow to watch (it may be preceded by an advertisement).

I got a rocket in my pocket and a roll in my walk
So, baby don't fuss me with that North Forty talk
There ain't nothing you can tell me I don't already know
I got a rocket in my pocket and I'm raring to go
A-Let's go some place so we can rock a bit
I got a rocket in my pocket and the fuse is lit

— "I Got a Rocket in my Pocket" by Jimmie Lloyd, 1958

When the Space Launch System design was announced September 14 at the Dirksen Senate Office Building, Florida's Democratic U.S. Senator Bill Nelson whipped out a pen and proceeded to point with great pride at an illustration of the new heavy-lift vehicle.

Nelson dubbed it "the Monster Rocket," the phallic symbolism of his rhetoric apparently lost on him.

Critics dubbed the SLS the Senate Launch System, because it had no mission or destination. Its design was dictated by Congress, specifically members of the Senate space subcommittee, led by Nelson and Texas' Republican U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison. Its primary purpose seemed to be perpetuating pork to their states.

In the weeks since his September 14 press conference, Nelson has repeatedly used the phrase "monster rocket," without explaining why we should be impressed by the size of the vehicle.

While Congress fixated on protecting their pork in the federal Fiscal Year 2012 budget appropriation process, NASA administration and supporters of commercial space tried desperately to warn Congress of the consequences should legislators fail to properly fund the Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) program.

The Obama administration requested $850 million for FY12, to assure NASA could stop flying astronauts on Russian Soyuz capsules by 2015. The Republican majority on the House Appropriations Committee offered only $312 million, and the Democratic majority on the Senate side offered just $500 million. When the two bills went to reconciliation, they split the difference and budgeted $406 million.

After the October 26 House science committee hearing on commercial space, I sent letters through their web sites to Nelson, Florida's Republican Senator Marco Rubio, and Rep. Sandy Adams, my congresswoman whose district includes Kennedy Space Center. My letter urged them to do what they could to assure Congress fully funded commercial space. The text:

I urge that you support the $850 million requested by the Obama administration to fully fund commercial crew development (CCDev) in the FY12 budget.

As you are aware from the October 26 hearing, any delays only send more U.S. tax dollars to support the Russian space program. It is foolish to reduce the administration's CCDev request, as not only will we taxpayers be forced to continue paying for the Russian space taxi service but NASA will be forced to rely on the Russians' sole source monopoly for more years.

In my opinion, Congress should provide NASA with enough funding to assure that a minimum of two CCDev participants are ready to fly astronauts by 2015. NASA is scheduled to receive final bids in 2012 from the four remaining candidates. The next three years will be critical to assure we can be freed from the Russian monopoly by 2015.

I ask that you urge your fellow members to support 100% funding for FY12 as originally proposed by the administration.

That was nearly a month ago. I've received no response from Senator Rubio or Rep. Adams.

But I did receive this boilerplate reply from Senator Nelson's office on November 21:

Thank you for sharing your concerns about our country's human spaceflight program. I want to assure you that the retirement of the Space Shuttle is not the end of the U.S. space program, and we are going to continue to be world leaders in spaceflight. I have been working to provide NASA the direction and the funding they need to begin the next phase of space exploration. We will not take a back seat to Russia or any other nation in science and technology.

NASA just recently announced its plans to build a new monster rocket that will be the most powerful one ever created. It will carry our astronauts to deep space destinations in this decade and will one day take them to Mars. At the same time, NASA is helping four separate companies develop the next generation of rockets and spacecraft that will taxi American astronauts to and from the International Space Station (ISS). The ISS was originally going to be cancelled in 2015, but thanks to legislation I led last year, it has been extended through 2020. That means we will continue to have a permanent presence of Americans in space through this decade.

I have been working with my colleagues to do everything we can to mitigate the impacts of the shuttle retirement to the Space Coast and the valuable workforce that made that program possible. NASA’s announcement of their plans for the new heavy-lift rocket will provide stability to the aerospace workforce and create jobs as the Kennedy Space Center is modernized. In addition, a nonprofit organization based on the Space Coast will be managing research projects planned for the ISS. Projects like this will bring money, jobs, and industry to diversify the economy of the Space Coast.

I will continue working with local leaders and community partners to bring in new opportunities by highlighting the concentrated, highly skilled workforce that the Space Coast has to offer. If there is anything additional I can do to help, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Bill Nelson

No, I didn't really expect a personal response, but it would have been nice to know that at least he had a boilerplate that specifically addressed commercial crew funding.

In any case, I was struck by his use yet again of the "monster rocket" rhetoric. "NASA just recently announced its plans to build a new monster rocket that will be the most powerful one ever created."

What is this obsession Nelson has with the size and power of the rocket?!

Does he think that bragging about building a "monster rocket" is going to get him votes?!

Every time Nelson utters the "monster rocket" phrase, I'm reminded of this lyric from Jimmie Lloyd's 1958 rockabilly ballad:

"I got a rocket in my pocket and I'm raring to go."

Click here for the complete lyrics.

Click here to listen to "I Got a Rocket in My Pocket."

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