Space Access Society Political Action Alert

Tuesday 4/26/11

Political Action Alert:  Fight the "Space Launch System" Earmark!


          Action Requested:


 - Call your Representative via the House Switchboard at (202) 224-3121.   (If you don't already know their name, grab an old bill and look them up by your 9-digit zipcode at


 - Tell whoever answers the phone that you'd like to speak to the person who handles NASA issues for the Congressman/woman.  (Ask for their voicemail if they're not available.) 


 - Politely ask that staffer to: Ask your Representative to tell Chairman Wolf that he/she opposes earmarking billions to sole-source the NASA "Space Launch System".  Tell the staffer that you want to see a real competition to determine what heavy-lift booster NASA actually needs and who can build it most affordably.  (If he wants to talk more about this, do your best to answer his questions.)  Thank him for his time, and ring off.


[Clarification added 4/27/11 6:41 pm EDT.  Representative Frank Wolf is as best we know NEUTRAL on this question.  We ask you to have your Representative contact him with your concerns over this earmark because he's Chair of the key House NASA funding subcommittee and thus the go-to person in the House on these matters.  Please do not contact his office directly (unless you live in his district.)]




Before close of business this Friday, sooner is better, during east coast business hours if possible.


          Why This Alert, Why Now:


Briefly, we've just heard that the next big move in the FY'12 (starts October 1st) NASA Exploration budget battle happens early next week, when NASA reports back to the Congress (as ordered) with a plan to meet the "Space Launch System" mandate in the FY'10 NASA Authorization bill (Shuttle-derived, 70 then 130 ton lift, fly by 2016).


Early word is, it's an UGLY plan (a good match for the mandate):  Have the existing contractors build a hasty 70-ton payload Shuttle-Derived launcher using a pair of old-style 4-segment solids and three surplus Space Shuttle Main Engines, then fly this four times starting in 2016 (using up the existing SSMEs.)  Then, after spending $11.5 billion (ignoring the near-certain overruns) for just four flights, shut this project down and start all over, with a "competition" between several different 130-ton capacity heavy lifter concepts.  (See for more on the plan.)


This plan starts out as a sole-source non-competed earmark, and it would stay that way - we simply don't believe the second-phase "competition" it calls for would be any such thing.  Lack of real competition aside, from where we stand this plan threatens to eat the entire NASA Exploration budget for the forseeable future without producing any actual exploration.  But the earmark aspect is where we think we have our best shot at getting some traction this week.


Now is the time to, if not stop "Space Launch System" entirely, at least rein it in and limit the damage it can do to the rest of NASA.  Please - make the call!




- Chairman Wolf is Representative Frank Wolf (R-VA), chairman of the House Commerce-Justice-Science Appropriations subcommittee, and thus a key player in the first round of the FY'12 NASA budget process.


 - ran a story on the SLS earmark last week at  Money quotes:


"Critics have said that if the money isn’t competitively bid, it is no better than an earmark — at a time when Congress has effectively banned the pet projects." (Article Authors)


“Manned spaceflight is prohibitively expensive, especially considering our budgetary woes,” said Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, a budget watchdog group. “At one point, the administration was trying to lead NASA out of that, but congressional politics protecting parochial interests have forced the agency to waste money in the recent short-term continuing resolutions and are forcing a specific approach down NASA’s throat in the yearlong spending bill.”


 “Heavy lift of 130 tons is not necessary for missions beyond Earth orbit if we develop a few key technologies,” said Rep. Dana Rohrbacher (R-Calif.). “But whatever Congress decides, one thing is clear: The process needs to be open and competitive with transparency throughout the process.”




This is just the beginning of another months-long Congressional funding process.  Actually killing SLS, well, that's a long shot - the only guarantee there is that if we don't try, it definitely won't happen.  More likely the fight will go back and forth at the margins, with small changes in SLS (and the MPCV capsule, but that's not the target this week) making a big difference in how much money is left in FY'12 for all the things we do support at NASA:  Commercial Crew & Cargo, Commercial Reusable Suborbital, Exploration Technology, Space Technology, Propellant Depots, etc - all the things that bear on lower cost space transportation for the future.


We've lived through decades when the fraction of NASA's space budget we saw as usefully spent was around 1% - and that was in a good year.  The FY'11 Exploration total ended up 79% SLS/MPCV, 21% potentially good stuff.  21% beats 1% handily...  If we can improve on that 21% for next year, we'll have done well.  But if we don't fight, if we sit back and take things for granted, that useful percentage could easily drop to single digits, or nothing at all.  One phone call from you could make the difference.



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Space Access Society
"Reach low orbit and you're halfway to anywhere in the Solar System"

 - Robert A. Heinlein