Shuttlyndra and the Smoking Rocket

Over at Pajamas Media today, I have some interesting news on the Shuttlyndra situation, which would be a huge scandal if anyone cared about space, or the waste of tens of billions of taxpayer dollars — past, present and future.

On 26 September 2011, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) issued a press release regarding fuel depots. This included a letter to former Administrator Mike Griffin who had dismissed the notion of fuel depots and commercial launch vehicles as being a viable alternative to the Space Launch System(SLS) during Congressional testimony.

Rohrabacher noted “When NASA proposed on-orbit fuel depots in this Administration’s original plan for human space exploration, they said this game-changing technology could make the difference between exploring space and falling short. Then the depots dropped out of the conversation, and NASA has yet to provide any supporting documents explaining the change,” says Rohrabacher.”

Well, despite what NASA may or may not have been telling Rep. Rohrabacher about its internal evaluations regarding the merits of alternate architectures that did not use the SLS (and those that incorporated fuel depots), the agency had actually been rather busy studying those very topics.

And guess what: the conclusions that NASA arrived at during these studies are in direct contrast to what the agency had been telling Congress, the media, and anyone else who would listen.

One of the problems with this is that it is a technically complex issue, hard for most lay people, and even most reporters to understand. It can just sound to the uninitiated like dueling experts. What’s interesting about the release of this document is just how devastating the case it makes against the Senate Launch System. Which explains why it has only become available via leaks from within the agency. Those inside the agency who have been feeding data to Congress to maintain support for the SLS are no doubt unhappy now. What is unclear is who they are, and how far up the chain of command this attempt to hide the ball goes. It raises the question of whether the NASA administrator himself was aware of it. If so, he was one of the people withholding data from Congress (and the public).

It’s hard for any rational person to read it and conclude that it makes any sense to continue with the SLS. Unless, of course, your goal for the agency is not to actually send people into space, but rather just keep in place existing jobs. And to hell with the taxpayer.