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March 06, 2012

Republicans Go Socialist on NASA Commercial Spaceflight Effort

By Doug Mohney, Contributing Editor


When it comes to NASA's program for fostering commercial manned spaceflight, a lot of Republicans in Congress have turned socialist. Congressmen supposedly belonging to the party of Jack Kemp and Ronald Reagan are calling for NASA to become more involved in the design of spacecraft, with more detailed supervision and regulation. They want no free market competition -- instead calling for a “cooperative” effort among vendors. Finally, these same socialist Republicans are perfectly fine with extending NASA's dependence upon Russia for transportation to the International Space Station (ISS). 

Republican socialism began last week, when a group of Representatives lead by Pete Olson (R-TX) sent a letter over to Office of Science and Technology Policy Director John Holdren urging NASA “should retain all encompassing responsibility over the safety requirements for development of commercial crew vehicles” under the Commercial Crew Program (CCDev). Signers of the letter included Representatives Steve Palazzo (R-MS), Lamar Smith (R-TX), Randy Hultgren (R-IL),  Steve LaTourette (R-OH), Moe Brooks (R-AL) and Ted Poe (R-TX).

The dispute revolves around NASA's use of Space Act Agreements (SAA) in the next round of commercial crew, rather than using a more rigid FAR-based contract. Why did NASA shift to SAAs? Congress only provided $406 million rather than the $850 million the Administration requested to run a FAR-based development program with all the resulting management overhead.

NASA admits it cannot impose strict safety requirements under SAAs, but it has also clearly indicated that companies who don't follow the regulations most likely won't end up with contracts to transport astronauts. That's not good enough for the signers of the letter, and NASA needs to manage stronger.

In the same letter, the same Congressmen want make sure they have enough time to process through an extension to existing waivers in the Iran North Korea Syria Nonproliferation Act to pay Russia for ISS support -- including Soyuz manned crew transport.   Without the extension, “NASA and our international partners could face the need to de-crew the ISS,” states the letter. “ Such a dire outcome would put the Station at significant risk to its safety and long-term viability as a national research laboratory, as well as jeopardize our nation’s significant investment.” 

One might suspect Ronald Reagan might be outraged about the bizarre logic involved in increasing government regulation and oversight on U.S. aerospace companies, while Congress seems to be eager to make sure Russian services -- paid for with U.S. taxpayer dollars -- aren't interrupted.

If that isn't enough to make the Tea Party in Space cry, Representative Frank Wolf (R-VA) suggested NASA should cut competition out of the next round of CCDev all together, instead putting all the vendors together. “Would you consider combining them into a star team in order to eliminate the cost that would be incurred as they dropped out and to expedite this some?” Wolf asked Holdren at a February 29 House hearing.

The CCDev “dream team” concept has been thrown out before by House Science, Space, and Technology Chairman Ralph Hall (R-TX). Wikipedia defines socialism as “an economic system characterized by social ownership or control of the means of production and cooperative management of the economy, and a political philosophy advocating such a system” while phrase social ownership references “cooperative enterprises.”

Ironically, Wolf introduced the Jobs Bring Back Jobs to America Act in the FY 2012 Commerce Department budget bill. While the legislation is targeted at China, “the legislation requires the Commerce Department to immediately set up a task force to examine what needs to be done to encourage U.S. companies to bring their manufacturing and research and development activities back to America’s shores,” according to Wolf's website.  

One might wonder why Wolf wants to discourage competition between U.S. companies on U.S. shores while his colleagues seem to be in a hurry to assure steady funding for Russian launch services and piling on regulation.





Edited by Jennifer Russell



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