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Shelby Says that NASA Must Focus on SLS

By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter

The space shuttle has been retired for years now and no replacement is yet available.  It has been decades since man last walked on the moon and a Mars mission seems to be still decades away.  The X2 and Constellation Programs which were to have replaced the shuttle were both underfunded, delayed, and ultimately scrapped by a National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) that appears to have little of the focus that it enjoyed in a previous generation.  The return to the moon effort has similarly died in NASA politics.  The next generation American human space launch vehicle is the Space Launch System (SLS) which is supposed to be operational within four years.  U.S. Senator Richard Shelby (R) from Alabama has recently delivered comments urging NASA to focus on the SLS.

Senator Shelby said to NASA administrator Charles Bolden in a hearing on the FY 2014 budget, “While your testimony Administrator Bolden, points out that NASA is building the world’s most powerful rocket, the Space Launch System,  the budget does not reflect NASA’s commitment to that goal.”

Senator Shelby said, “NASA is one of the most publicly-recognized agencies in the federal government and an inspiration to young people around the world motivating them to become scientists, engineers, and explorers.  I look forward to hearing from Administrator Bolden about this budget and NASA’s plans for the future.  The fiscal year 2014 budget aspires to do many new, innovative, and exciting things, yet it proposes no additional funding.  In essence, NASA is proposing to do more with less.  I strongly believe that this country must continue to push the science and engineering envelope while maintaining focus on current investments in order to reap tangible benefits.”

Shelby said that he was concerned that the budget request made by NASA chases, “the next great idea while sacrificing current investments.”  Shelby said, “While we are committed to NASA’s mission, subjecting mission critical activities to shoestring budgets because a more exciting idea has come along is not wise.”

Alabama’s senior Senator said, “Based on the proposed budget, as well as previous budgets, I have serious doubts about NASA’s dedication to truly developing a heavy launch capability.  While your testimony Administrator Bolden, points out that NASA is building the world’s most powerful rocket, the Space Launch System, the budget does not reflect NASA’s commitment to that goal.  Instead, it shows cuts to SLS vehicle development as far as the eye can see.”

Shelby called privately funded commercial cargo and crew vehicles “fiction” and said that those efforts  diverts, “Critical resources from NASA’s goal of developing human space flight capabilities with the SLS.”  Specifically Shelby questioned why NASA has provided $1.5 billion dollars through Space Act Agreements to for-profit companies to develop low earth orbit launch capabilities without requiring information on how much money those companies invested themselves to get the federal dollars.  Shelby said, “NASA has no ability to keep the projects on budget or on schedule because of the nature of the contract that was executed.  It is troubling that NASA paid the companies developing cargo capability in spite of delayed milestones, shifting completion dates, and an altered final delivery schedule and then had to provide additional payments in excess of $200 million so these projects could be successful.  This sounds like a great arrangement for the companies but I don’t believe it is a great arrangement for the taxpayer.”

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Sen. Shelby has long been critical of diverting money that could go to the SLS which is being designed and built in Huntsville to private space cargo companies.

Last Thursday the director of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, Patrick Scheuermann, addressed the Montgomery Press Corps as part of NASA Day in Montgomery.  Director Scheuermann told ‘The Alabama Political Reporter’ that the Marshall Space Flight Center was focused on delivering the Space Launch System (SLS) on time for launch at the Kennedy Space Flight Center within four years.  Scheuermann said that the rocket would be even bigger and more powerful than the Apollo rockets built by Marshall during the 1960s and would get our astronauts beyond low earth orbit.

Senator Richard Shelby is the Vice Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee and the top Republican on the Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Subcommittee.  He was first elected to the Senate (then as a Democrat) in 1986.

Brandon Moseley is a former reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter.

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