I’m scratching my head over the reactions of some Congresscritters about the successful launch of the Falcon 9 rocket by SpaceX on Friday. Given that NASA has several billion dollars it will be giving to commercial transport systems over the next few years, you’d think that Congress would be happy that a private company was able to get a medium-lift rocket into orbit on their first try.
But then, you wouldn’t be Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison. This Texas Republican — that’s important, hang on — gave a short statement after the launch that was at best tepid, and in reality a slap in the face to SpaceX and all the other private space companies:
This first successful test flight of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket is a belated sign that efforts to develop modest commercial space cargo capabilities are showing some promising signs. While this test flight was important, the program to demonstrate commercial cargo and crew transport capabilities, which I support, was intended to enhance not replace NASA’s own proven abilities to deliver critical cargo and humans to low Earth orbit. Make no mistake, even this modest success is more than a year behind schedule, and the project deadlines of other private space companies continue to slip as well. This test does not change the fact that commercial space programs are not ready to close the gap in human spaceflight if the space shuttle is retired this year with no proven replacement capability and the Constellation program is simultaneously cancelled [sic] as the President proposes.
Senator — with all due respect — that’s baloney. Plain and simple.
A company with facilities in Texas successfully rockets into outer space, achieving something truly novel. And the Republican Senator calls it a modest success. This was a major stepping stone for mankind in space. Getting to space is not easy and has really only been done by government-sized efforts previously. For the first time, a non-governmental agency has launched a payload into orbit. At least enjoy the moment and that it was a company with Texas ties that accomplished this.
Somehow I think politics is involved in her choice of words.
First of all, her passive aggressive stance — using the word “modest” not once but twice, as well as using the term “belated sign” — are ridiculous. This is unexplored territory for the private sector, so while the delays have been irritating for us space enthusiasts, they’re expected. How many delays has NASA had over the years developing new tech? That statement from her is prejudicial and ridiculous.
Second, with her last sentence she continues with the blatantly false meme that Obama is to blame for the gap after the Shuttle; this is the same patently wrong claim she made in an editorial she wrote for the Houston Chronicle in March. Senator, in case you or one of your staff actually reads this, let me be very clear here: there will be a four to five year gap, at least, between the Shuttle retirement and any new NASA heavy-lift rocket, no matter what Obama does. It was the Bush Administration that made 2010 the retirement date for the Shuttle program, and did not have a replacement plan in place for it.
To be certain, I am not blaming (only) Bush for this; both NASA and Congress should have been working on a realistic Shuttle replacement ten years ago. More.
What happened to the privatization push from Republicans?
There is no program to replace the Shuttle this year. There has not been one since the decision to retire the Shuttle in 2010 was made. The Shuttle itself has been out of service several times, resulting in years of delay. The Shuttle never did become the truck to space that it was advertised as.
There is lots of blame to go around regarding this gap but the current Administration is the least of it. Both previous Democratic and Republican administrations, along with legislators of both parties are culpable.
There will be lots of time for political finger-pointing. As a former Texan, I would just have liked to see greater recognition and joy over the fact that a company with roots in Texas was the first into space. This is a wonderful adjunct approach to getting things into orbit and should really be cheered.