Rep. Dana Rohrabacher Challenges Status Quo In NASA Deep Space Monster Rocket Plans

Sep 22, 2011
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Washington, Sep 22, 2011 - When NASA recently rolled out their plans for launching the next generation of manned space exploration, the predominate reaction from Republicans and industry insiders was approval, along with complaints about the purported foot dragging by the Obama Administration. Not West Orange County Representative Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA). Rohrabacher didn’t like much about the plan – in fact, about the only thing he did like was the goal of getting back into space.

Shortly after NASA announced their decision about the plans, called the Space Launch System, or SLS, Rohrabacher was out with a press statement condemning the NASA ideas. But, before we get to his statement, it might be helpful to note that in this real world context, the phrase “deep space” isn’t anything close to the science fiction use of those words. Here, “deep space” seems to mean anything further out in space than the International Space Station, which is just a few hundred miles up.

Here’s the full text of Rohrabacher’s September 14, 2011 statement:

“Today, NASA announced its new design for a deep space exploration system, including a new ‘monster rocket’ based on 40-year-old Space Shuttle technology in an attempt to recapture the glory days of the Apollo Saturn V,” said Rohrabacher. “To meet the challenges of the 21st century we need bold, creative thinking and new technology development, like on-orbit fuel depots.

“Nostalgic rocketry is not how great nations invent their future,” proclaimed Rohrabacher. “There’s nothing new or innovative in this approach, especially its astronomical price tag, and that’s the real tragedy. Unfortunately, after a number of years, perhaps during development or after just a few flights like Saturn, budget pressures will bring this program to an end. Jobs that some politicians are bragging today about saving will be gone, while the new jobs based on new technologies and new enterprises will remain uncreated, because we chose repeating the past over inventing the future.

“I share the same goals as Administrator Bolden and my congressional colleagues. But I have heard today's claims before --- ‘We can build a new spacecraft and huge rocket, we can explore the solar system, we can meet the budget, and we can meet the schedule.’ It simply has not come to pass. Every time we come to this decision point, we take the same wrong path – an expensive heavy-lift launch vehicle that cannot be developed, built and flown in a financially sustainable manner.

“I hope that I am wrong about this heavy lift program, and ten years from now we are celebrating the first launch of this system to send humans beyond Earth's orbit on time and on budget. Otherwise this plan will suffer the same fate as Constellation – overpromised, under-delivered, and cancelled. Where will we be then?”

The decision and the support for the program received considerable media attention in the last few days. A thorough article by Jeff Foust, published by The Space Review on Monday, September 19, (click here)
http://thespacereview.com/article/1932/1 identifies several approving politicians from both parties. Rohrabacher was the only politician against NASA’s Space Launch System plans, so OC180NEWS decided to look into his complaints.

Rep. Rohrabacher is a member of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee. This committee held a hearing on July 12, 2011 on the then undecided plans for the Space Launch System. NASA Administrator Charles Bolden appeared at the hearing and made a formal presentation.

According to Rep. Rohrabacher, he asked Bolden some pointed questions about what analysis NASA had done regarding alternatives to their heavy lift SLS program and Bolden promised to provide the analysis.

Thus, more than a month after the committee hearing, and coincidently about a week before NASA announced their SLS decision, Rohrabacher, noticing no follow up information had appeared on his desk, fired off a letter to Administrator Bolden.

Although it is clear Rohrabacher is not impressed with NASA’s heavy lift SLS, his questions are centered on understanding alternatives considered by NASA and the thoroughness of such consideration. Given that back on July 12, Administrator Bolden indicated the analysis had been done, it seems reasonable that a photocopy job could have been completed and forwarded to Rohrabacher by now. Yesterday his office told us they have not received anything as yet.

OC180NEWS yesterday contacted the appropriate people at NASA, but by the time we got through the bureaucracy to figure out exactly who that person was, it was a little late in the afternoon by East Coast standards. When we explained what we were looking for, The public information officer in charge of the Space Launch System did not seem to know anything about the comparative analysis requested by Rohrabacher back in July.

To our surprise, the PIO said many NASA decisions are not documented in a manner that could be provided to the public. When we pointed out that Administrator Bolden has called the SLS decision “probably the most important of the decade,” and had promised to provide it to Rohrabacher Nearly two months ago, the PIO said he would see what he could find out. We’ll give him a day or so and see what he comes back with.

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