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NASA’s Bridenstine visits United Launch Alliance rocket factory in Decatur

NASA Administrator James Frederick “Jim” Bridenstine held a roundtable discussion Thursday with United Launch Alliance (ULA) and NASA officials after touring ULA’s massive rocket factory in Decatur. Bridenstine then addressed the media.

Reporters asked about the Space Launch System.

“We are not going to abandon it,” Bridenstine said. “We are behind schedule and over cost; but NASA builds big things. This is the largest most powerful rocket ever built. We are doing things that on one has ever done before. We are even having to invent things.”

SLS, now under development, is the most powerful rocket ever built, able to carry astronauts in NASA’s Orion spacecraft on deep space missions, including to the moon, an asteroid and ultimately on a journey to Mars.  Thousands of Alabamians are working on building, managing, and designing the SLS.

Bridenstine said that it is hard, but that NASA does the hard stuff. This is an important part of making America great.

The Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville has been designing and managing the SLS system. Part of the upper stage of the SLS will be built by ULA.

The NASA Administrator said that we will return to the moon within ten years and this time we won’t just walk around, plant a flag, and not return for fifty years. Instead we will have a permanent lunar presence with robots, rovers, and humans working and living on the moon. Bridenstine said that there is a lot of frozen water on the from.

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From the moon we go to Mars.

Bridenstine said that within ten years there will be three or four private company owned space stations with people working, living and doing research in space.

NASA is also designing its own smaller space station.

The United Launch Alliance is preparing for America’s return to human spaceflight. A ULA Delta V rocket will launch the Boeing Corporation’s Starliner space craft into space starting in 2019 allowing NASA to send astronauts to the International Space Station without having to ride with the Russians.

“We are all pretty excited to build it,” ULA CEO Tory Bruno said. Bruno showed Bridenstine the manned vehicle. Its almost ready to go.

The first launch will be unmanned.

Bridenstine said that the relationship with the Russian space agency has been very mutually beneficial and he hopes that it continues, with Americans still going into space on Russian rockets but that now we will also have an American human space flight capability. Bridenstine praised the Russian Soyuz module which has not had an accident on a manned mission, since 1983 and no one was harmed then.

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Bridenstine praised the people of Alabama and their enthusiasm for space exploration. “I wish every state shared that.”

Bridenstine also praised the Alabama Congressional Delegation. Everyone in the Alabama delegation cares strongly about space. Bridenstine said that Senate Richard Shelby, the Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee feels strongly about space and added that Shelby was a friend. He also praised Congressmen Robert Aderholt and Mo Brooks for their enthusiasm about space.

Bridenstine said that he wanted to use more open architecture so that other companies and even other countries could also participate in future space exploration.  He also praised the creation of the Space Council by President Donald J. Trump (R).

ULA spokes woman Jessica Rye told the Alabama Political Reporter that the Delta rockets use Russian rocket engines; but that the new ULA Vulcan Centaur rockets will use engines built by Blue Origin at their new Huntsville factory.

Congressman Mo Brooks, R-Huntsville, told reporters that he told NASA Administrator Bridenstine, “The more missions that they give us the lower the cost per mission.”

Bridenstine, until his confirmation by the Senate in April, represented Oklahoma’s 1st Congressional District. He is a U.S. Navy veteran who flew E-2C Hawkeye aircraft off of the carrier U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln. He flew combat missions in both Iraq and Afghanistan. He later transitioned to flying the F-18 Hornet. He spent years in the Navy where he made 333 carrier landings. After leaving the Navy, Bridenstine served as the executive director of the Tulsa Air and Space Museum & Planetarium.

He has experience in real estate and ranching as well as a degree from Rice and a Masters in Business Administration from Cornell. In 2012 he was promoted to Lt Commander in the U.S. Navy Reserve while flying missions in Central and South America in the war on drugs. Bridenstine most recently served with the 137th Air Refueling Wing of the Oklahoma Air National Guard, flying with an MC-12 squadron stationed in Oklahoma City. He was elected to Congress in 2012. It was a very controversial appointment because there were concerns that appointing a Congressman as NASA Administrator would politicize NASA.

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NASA is very important to Alabama economically.

Congresswoman Martha Roby, R-Montgomery, wrote in February, “NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville is very important to our state’s economy. Marshall supports approximately 22,000 jobs in Alabama and provides $3.8 billion in economic impact. On top of this, more than half of Marshall’s contracts are sourced in-state, yielding an additional $1.4 billion in economic activity.”

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

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