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National Review

Bill Nelson’s Defective Vision for NASA

When the NASA administrator was last appointed, then Florida senator Bill Nelson was on the other side of the Days, asking the then representative Jim Bridenstin a tough question. Early in the hearing, Nelson wondered aloud that Bridenstin’s politician time would hinder his commanding ability. “Managers must be leaders. The ability to unite scientists, engineers, commercial space stakeholders, policy makers, Congress, and the general public to share a vision for future space exploration. I have, “he said. In the Senate on Wednesday, Nelson, now playing a role in the Biden administration, praised Bridenstin’s acclaimed tenure for helping expand the U.S. manned space program, but locks lawmakers and Horn. Did not promise to continue his legacy. But NASA needs both continuity and someone who opposes the worst trends in Congress. As a candidate for President Biden’s management, Bill Nelson certainly has the right qualifications to lead the NASA. He has a long history of overseeing agencies. He was one of the only two politicians to date on the Space Shuttle mission, and received enthusiastic praise from all the right people, including former managers Bridenstin and Senator Rubio. I have won. But the biggest concern about Nelson is his vision for NASA. For too long, Congress has gone beyond mere goal setting to direct government agencies to make their own decisions in legislative texts. Some members are too interested in maintaining work in the district through NASA contracts and are not enough to truly drive space innovation. This spirit led to the development of NASA’s Albatross Space Launch System (SLS). The United States needs a clear vision of space that NASA should manage. Instead of wasting money on building itself, NASA can best achieve this vision by budgeting wisely and working with commercial operators such as SpaceX and Blue Origin. Nelson’s history at NASA began in 1985 when he was a member of the House Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee, which oversees NASA. In 1986, just weeks after Nelson completed the shuttle mission, the Challenger explosion caused tragedy. As part of the supervisory body, he convened a hearing to get the shuttle program back on track. To his honor, Nelson was a solid supporter of manned spaceflight, even when NASA shifted its focus to robotic missions in the 1990s. However, Nelson has shown hostility to the use of commercial spacecraft in the past. At a 2010 hearing, he spoke openly about shifting funds from a commercial program to a space launch system, asking what would happen if Congress decided to take a $ 6 billion forecast. I did. Over the next five years, the president will use it to accelerate rather than human certification of commercial vehicles. .. .. Heavyweight carrier for the Mars program? Nelson’s question, on the contrary, has proven to be visionary. In less than a year, NASA flew an American to the International Space Station on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. This is the first time an American rocket has been launched from American soil since the 2011 shuttle, made possible by the program Nelson wanted to cut. In fact, much of this century’s commercial space race can be attributed to NASA’s commercial cargo and commercial crew programs. Meanwhile, Nelson defended the Space Launch System. The Space Launch System will finally fly this year, hopefully after more than a decade of cost overruns and time delays. For some time, SLS lacked a clear vision that Nelson himself identified as critical. When he helped write the SLS on the 2010 NASA reapproval bill, there was no long-term goal of going to the Moon, Mars, or elsewhere. The Artemis Mission, which does both, was launched in 2017 and has been ported to the SLS project. Under the latest budget, Congress has doubled and demanded that NASA provide a multi-year plan for SLS to become part of the Artemis lunar mission. A few days before the hearing, NASA announced that SpaceX would provide a vehicle to reach the moon, but SLS will provide a rocket for astronauts. On board, the crew will switch from SLS to SpaceX. This annoying decision can be explained by the fact that SLS has contracts with suppliers in all states. For these and other reasons, NASA is still suffering from the burden of continuing SLS. As my colleague Eli Dourado observed, “In a sane world, Congress shuts down the entire program and NASA’s space exploration proceeds using commercial rockets.” Fortunately, NASA said. We are already starting to draw a better path. With this new path, NASA will be responsible for technology selection and standard setting, but the contract will shift to fixed costs on a milestone basis. NASA will continue to use this type of contract with Artemis, but SLS and its contract methods still free NASA from hangovers. About 10 years ago, the agency estimated that it would cost taxpayers $ 4 billion to buy a Falcon 9 rocket under traditional cost-plus contracts. However, SpaceX costs $ 443 million, just one-tenth that of a comparable rocket. This is mainly a fixed cost contract model product. In total, the Commercial Crew program alone saved agencies $ 20 to $ 30 billion. This estimate is in stark contrast to NASA’s $ 17 billion already spent on the SLS program by the end of 2020, an additional $ 6 billion higher than the original ticket price. This success was so obvious that NASA couldn’t ignore it. Therefore, in mid-March, the agency announced that it was trying to replicate the success of its commercial program with plans to award up to $ 400 million to four companies to begin developing a private space station. Freed from SLS, NASA can target money to do more. Nelson eventually took part in a commercial spaceflight when he began his flight from his hometown of Florida, but it was clear that he didn’t want to change course at SLS, even on Wednesday. While the odds seem less and less likely, Nelson needs to do everything in his power to drive the space race this century.