Robert Block, the Space Editor for the Orlando Sentinel, posted about the letter to President Bush from Senators McCain, Hutchison, and Vitter requesting that NASA stop removing the infrastructure and tooling needed to continue the Shuttle program. In 2004, President Bush initiated the Vision for Space Exploration, or VSE. The VSE envisioned that the Shuttle program would cease in 2010, which would free up funds to finish the Orion and Ares I programs and get them launched by 2011 or 2012. To get through the 1-2 year gap between Shuttle retirement and Orion/Ares I first flight, U.S. Astronauts might fly on Russian Soyuz spacecraft. NASA’s 2005 Authorization Act, which originated out of Senator McCain’s office in 2004, initiated funding for VSE and, among other Space-related issues, required that there not be a gap between Shuttle retirement and Orion/Ares.
But Orion and Ares have not been funded as originally estimated because the Bush Administration has not funded NASA as originally promised when VSE was proposed. Instead, NASA is behind several billion dollars in funding and this has hindered progress of both the Orion and Ares programs. At present, NASA guesstimates that the first flight of Orion/Ares I will be in 2015. Depending upon the Russians for 5 years to get American astronauts to the ISS has been a gathering storm. For NASA to book a ride on the Russian Soyuz spacecraft requires that the President seek a waiver from the Iran, North Korea and Syria Nonpoliferation Act. Getting that waiver has not been easy. But with Russia’s invasion of Georgia, getting such a waiver through Congress could be very difficult.
So, Senators McCain, Hutchison and Vitter have requested that the President delay for a year any activities to retire the Shuttle’s manufacturing and service capabilities.
While I’m sure that the Republicans did not contact Senator Obama about what they were doing, if Obama really cared about Space, about KSC, and about making sure that American astronauts can reach the Space Station largely paid for by American taxpayers, he would have jumped on this just as Senators Hutchison, Vitter and McCain did. But Senator Obama did not. And that speaks volumes to his recent conversion from wanting to kill the U.S. manned Space program to supporting it.