NASA astronaut Scott Kelly, left, and crewmate Kjell Lindgren, right, chat with CBS News during a space-to-ground question-and-answer session Monday. Kelly urged lawmakers to fully fund NASA’s commercial crew program to end sole reliance on Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft. (CBS News)
Scott Kelly, an astronaut nearly five months into a one-year stay at the International Space Station, has begged Congress to stop killing America’s manned space program. In the words of a CBS News headline, Kelly has urged “full-funding for commercial crew ships.” And Kelly has asked that Congress stop shoveling close to a billion dollars out of America’s manned space program and into the coffers of the Russians.
What’s Kelly talking about? America has been unable to launch humans into space on American vehicles since the Bush administration retired the Space Shuttle in 2011. To get our astronauts to the International Space Station, we’ve had to pay the Russians as much as $82 million per astronaut per flight. Why?
NASA’s Commercial Crew program, the program Kelly is begging the House and the Senate to fully fund, has chosen two companies to get us back into the manned space business: Boeing with a “space taxi” called the CST-100; and Elon Musk’s SpaceX with its Dragon Capsule. But since 2010, when Barack Obama announced a new space policy designed to get us back into the manned space race fast, Congress has chopped, sliced, and chipped away at the White House’s budget requests for the new space vehicles. The result: we could have had humans traveling to space on American vehicles once again as early as this year. But with every budget cut, the prospect of launching American crew vehicles has moved farther into the distance.
Today the estimated first-flight date of Boeing and SpaceX’s space taxis has moved from 2015 to 2017…because the House and the Senate have been stealing funds from the commercial crew program. Why in the world would red-blooded, patriotic American legislators cripple their own nation’s space effort? Why would they allow any space gap at all, much less one that promises to go on for an agonizing eleven years?
Because a small cabal of politicians is shifting money from the commercial crew program to the biggest piece of pork ever aimed at the sky, the Space Launch System, a Frankenrocket cobbled together using antique Shuttle technologies, a rocket that Space Development Steering Committee chief analyst John Strickland and numerous other experts say will be too expensive to fly. Too expensive and too unsafe.
Astronaut Scott Kelly has to be careful in his wording of this problem. He can’t afford to make enemies. But the Space Development Steering Committee’s founder, Howard Bloom, is more blunt. “Capitol Hill’s Space Launch System cabal may have good intentions,” he says, “but it’s working with all its might to put us behind the Chinese and the Russians in the 21st century space race.”
By WILLIAM HARWOOD CBS NEWS August 17, 2015