Over at the Beyond the Black blog, Bob Zimmerman does what I haven’t had time to yet –he excoriates the chairman of the House space appropriations subcomittee and Senator Hutchison after hearings this week:
Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) asked NASA Administrator Charles Bolden during a March 21 hearing on the agency’s 2013 budget the same question he asked of the White House’s chief science adviser last month: would NASA’s partnership with commercial companies to develop astronaut transports be cheaper if the companies competing for NASA funds combined their efforts into a single “all for one and one for all” project?
Similarly, Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) made the same stupid argument in her continuing effort to keep the funding of the Space Launch System, the rocket-formerly-called-Constellation, as high as possible, at the cost of cutting everything else in NASA if necessary.
If you needed any evidence that members of Congress are ignorant idiots, you only need read the comments of these elected officials at these hearings to get your proof. Wolf or Hutchison as well as several others from both parties very clearly haven’t the slightest idea what these various space companies are building. Nor do they have the faintest notion of the difficulties entailed in building these manned space vessels.
First of all, the rockets and capsules being built by all of the commercial companies are fundamentally different from each other. Dream Chaser is a space plane like the shuttle. Boeing’s CST-100 and SpaceX’s Dragon are capsules more like Apollo, though neither is much like the other. And Orbital Sciences’ Cygnus capsule is not even designed to carry humans, just cargo. It can’t return to Earth.
So, how the hell does Frank Wolf imagine it would save anyone any money to combine the efforts of these companies? The only way he could even make this suggestion is if he has never even glanced at any news story anywhere, describing these rockets and capsules.
Hutchison is even more shameful. She has become the queen of heavy-lift, not because it will get the U.S. manned program back into space (which it will not), but because it brings jobs and pork to her state. And she has been willing to let the budgets of any other NASA program die in her effort to further that pork.
What’s even more nutty on the part of the (retiring) senator is that the heavy lifter doesn’t even deliver jobs to Texas. The states that benefit most are Utah, Alabama, and Florida.
Even if Wolf were cognizant of vehicle design in general, or these vehicle designs in particular, his argument is essentially that of the socialist — that competition is “wasteful”:
In 1912 more than 1,000 locally elected officials in 33 states and 160 cities were Socialists. The Socialist Party candidate for president, Eugene Debs, won 6 percent of the national vote and seemed on his way to much more in future elections—but World War I and the Russian Revolution intervened.
Up to then the world had little experience with socialists in power. Debs argued that economic competition was wasteful and governmental monopoly would improve productivity. Others argued that competition in fighting poverty, improving education, or fostering religious belief—”denominationalism”—also was wasteful.
A century after Debs, Chairman Wolf still thinks that the taxpayer will somehow save money if NASA insists on the provision of services by a single provider, with no competition.
Unfortunately, that is the situation in which we are currently, except that single provider is Russia, and as even Wolf confessed in the hearings, we have to continue to waive the Iran/North Korea/Syria Non-Proliferation Act every time we negotiate a new contract with them for crew transport services. And because they have a monopoly, the price has been going up, and will continue to do so, whereas the (competing) American companies are offering prices much less. These are the same congresspeople who complain about the “gap” in services between the end of the Shuttle and the beginning of new American crew transportation capabilities, yet they want to starve the one program that can most quickly end the bleeding of cash to Russia, so they can (under)fund a giant rocket for which no mission exists, and that will probably never fly. As I noted over a year ago, the most likely reason we haven’t been visited is because there are Congresses on other planets.