Tea Party in Space (TPIS) may be a relatively small, niche movement, but it has friends in high places. The organization appears to have received an original copy of a letter advocating the exclusive use of solid rocket motors for NASA's Space Launch System (SLS) heavy rocket. Circulated on Capitol Hill by Utah Senator Orrin Hatch, according to TPIS, the document has signatures from four other senators in the West, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV). Needless to say, TPIS is not pleased with the “crony capitalism, good ole boy networks and pork” so Senator Hatch “needs to go.”
“This is simply shameful. Our economy is on the brink of collapse and these five senators (four of which are republican) decide to try to force a bailout earmark on NASA and the nation,” TPIS says on its website. “Senators do not design rockets to carry Americans into space: private companies do with NASA oversight. Even the casual space cadet realizes that the Space Launch System is ridiculously priced and completely unaffordable. These senators need to be held to account.”
In addition to Reid and Hatch, the letter was signed by senators Mike Crapo (R-ID), James E. Risch (R-ID), and Dean Heller (R-NV). The one page document protests NASA's delay in announcing a final SLS design and proposals to compete SLS strap-on boosters, saying the law authorizing SLS requires solids to be used.
A number of senators wish to compete follow-on SLS booster business, with TPIS supporting a proposal by California senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer for NASA to put out bids for the next generation of boosters, which would be needed for SLS to reach its maximum lift potential. Aerojet has said it will build a new factory with Teledyne Brown Engineering to build engines for SLS and could end up creating up to 1,400 new jobs in Northern California and Alabama.
Solid-rocket manufacturer ATK (News - Alert) is the company most affected by the SLS move. Since 2009, ATK Space systems has laid off nearly 2,200 workers – nearly half its entire workforce – as the space shuttle program has come to a close.
However, the very future of the SLS program may be at risk when NASA finally gets around to announcing its plans. Report from the Orlando Sentinel and NASAspaceflight.com say the program will run up a price tag (News - Alert) of up to $38 billion dollars and only fly twice in the first 10 years – one unmanned test flight in December 2017, followed by a manned testflight around the moon in 2021. A high price tag with little to show for a decade of spending isn't likely to win much support on Capitol Hill.
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Doug Mohney is a contributing editor for TMCnet and a 20-year veteran of the ICT space. To read more of his articles, please visit columnist page.
Edited by Jennifer Russell