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?