Is NASA Trying To Slow-Roll SLS?

If you read the second paragraph of the Orlando Sentinel’s Mark Mathew’s article, NASA space shuttle replacement: NASA offers $10 billion rocket plan using recycled shuttle parts, one might think that NASA is looking at developing two launchers when Congress legislated and appropriated only one. Why, in a time of tight budgets, would NASA do that?

First, a little background. The vote by the Senate and House overwhelming in favor of the S. 3729, otherwise known as the 2010 NASA Authorization Act, not only rolled-back the President’s effort to end our national means for human space access in favor of then-nonexistent commercial launchers, it preserved our nation’s independent means of human access to space through the Space Launch System and the Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle programs. While the White House agreed to the overall compromise that was the 2010 NASA Act, some within the Administration and political appointees within NASA never stopped the “good fight”, as they see it, to kill any semblance of Bush’s Vision for Space Exploration. The thinking goes that, while funds may have been appropriated for both the SLS and MPCV programs, that doesn’t mean neither can be slowed. And if they are slowed, their costs rise, giving ammunition to those like Mr. Matthews who claim such programs are a waste.

One way to kill a new program such as the Space Launch System is by division. In this case, build two launchers, naturally the first to “…test [NASA’s] nascent crew capsule — and keep shuttle workers and the aerospace industry busy — while the agency figures out what it really wants in a next-generation ‘heavy-lift’ rocket that could go to the moon or beyond.” This is called the “dual phase approach“. Congress guessed that opponents of the heavy-lift vehicle might try to slow-roll it, so language was inserted into the 2011 Appropriations bill (p. 214-215), Sec. 1333(a)1, stating “…heavy lift launch vehicle system which shall have a lift capability not less than 130 tons and which shall have an upper stage and other core elements developed simultaneously.”

One might guess that, with such clear language, this would be the end of any attempt to slow-roll SLS by dual phasing development. After all, spending money in a way not sanctioned in an appropriation could be construed as misappropriation of funds, which is pretty serious stuff legally. And it could be embarrassing for the Obama Administration, especially so in an upcoming election year. But it seems pretty clear that Matthew’s sources are maintaining the dream of slowing SLS by any means possible. So why doesn’t the Obama Administration, perhaps its Chief of Staff Daley, put the kibbosch on these antics?

Because the only thing the Administration cares less about than mohair subsidies is human space flight.


  1. All this article is saying is we keep the same monopoly in place to satisfy shareholders regardless of the risks they continually perpetuate. What ever happened to standardization and safety protocols?

  2. You can’t slow-roll a program that is already stopped.

    The MPCV and it’s launch vehicle are fiction until the first launch, then it’s still just a test program until the first manned launch. 2014 is a very optimistic date. Even if you keep the Shuttle program employees, there is still a great deal of infrastructure obstacles to overcome. Manning at this point is not the major hurdle.

    Then there is the inevitable political machine that acts like a shredder. It will bite and pick at the HSP with every step it takes. It’s commonly called red tape.

    Lets not forget about safety, you can say it’s engineered in, but at the first real accident, the QA and Safety inspectors will ground the effort until the program passes today’s scrutiny. Never mind the future unrealized, unimagined issues.

    All these things will delay any 2014 date set for a real manned mission. By then I’ll bet that the Space X Dragon will be well in it’s prime and show congress more justification to cancel an already questionable NASA program.

    I advocate for a dual+ development, we should never again rely on just one manned space system. It brings up too many scheduling and safety questions, and costly delays which we can afford no more. Redundant independent systems would permit for such inevitabilities, and allow for even the smallest forward progress, without stopping the whole program as we saw twice with the STS program.

    It’s time for congress to step up and take the initiative toward this nations vital space future. Invest smartly, but invest none-the-less and stop messing around! Every day we delay, we get another year behind the eight-ball.

    To fund it now, maybe we should bring back a bond system with tax subsidies. That would keep governmental costs down by a fair percentage, yet let the investors keep an open ended investment check. Who cares if it cost more than Soyuz, the investment in our future is worth the cost.

  3. I find the last sentence odd. Bolden/Obama have been pushing for some time to get major funding for HSF. Of course, it is for private space, not SLS. Here is SLS looking at 20+ billion, and NASA is fighting for less than 1 billion total for multiple human rated launchers. Congress is more than willing to throw 20-30 billion at the SLS, but they fighting against 852 million for CCDEV. In fact, they want to give only a 1/3 of that sum for CCDEV, while carping about Russian dependency. Yet, if we do not spend this money NOW, by 2016, we will spend 2x that on flights with Russia and have nothing to show for it.

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