Yesterday the House passed Obama’s authorization bill for NASA 304-118. For this congress that is as bipartisan as it gets. The republican reason was a little silly, Rep. John Culberson (R-TX) said voting for Obama’s plan kept Obama from killing NASA. Maybe we can convince them that voting for more of Obama’s bills will stop Obama. But its fine even if the Republicans voted for a silly reason the thing passed.
The great news is NASA has a damn budget at least through 2013. They also have a realistic mission in that time and that is to get people into space.
The COTS (Commercial Orbital Transport Services) budget is beefed up. This is a great thing, with many companies developing different rockets access to low Earth orbit won’t be crippled by one rocket failing.
NASA has the budget now to develop a real replacement to the Shuttle and not just reconfigure its parts.
The Space Shuttle’s main flaw was its complexity. It was an amazing piece of work that was built at a time when the Apple II c was the other example of the height of human engineering. Even though the Shuttle had been upgraded many times having computer chips that are 4,000 times as fast as what was available when the Space Shuttle Main Engines were designed means it should be possible to design an Engine that needs less human oversight bringing the cost per launch down.
The new bill also has NASA concentrating on sending humans beyond LEO this means experimenting in new types of propulsion. Ion drives and Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket (VASIMR) work great in outer space but can’t be used for lifting things off the planet.
Constellation was supposed to be Apollo on steroids, it turned into Apollo on foodstamps and then lets see what this looks like on paper. The new bill does kill the Constellation program but it was on life support anyways.
The Ares I was supposed to be finished in 2014 but realistically probably not before 2017 and the SpaceX Falcon 9 has gone through it first test and is expected to have its first full demo flight with payload in November of this year. Although I support the idea of having more than one way into space the clear winner in this race was the Falcon 9.
Some of the hardware from the Constellation Program remains intact, the Orion Space Capsule will continue and is being adapted to fit on a wide range of rockets as well as being a platform to use for multiple purposes.
The Ares I first stage booster has also been finished and static tested. Its builder Alliant Techsystems has stated they will continue to test the 5-segment solid rocket booster for use with other rocket systems both public and private.
All and all the new plan lets NASA build a foundation for the next stage of space exploration and that will lead to a fantastic future.
By Darrell B. Nelson author of Invasive Thoughts