Tea Party in Space, the grass-roots offshoot that focuses on applying free-market reforms to the U.S. space program, blames “warped priorities” for the dilemma that NASA faces over possibly abandoning the International Space Station until it can be resupplied.
Last week, an unmanned Russian cargo ship carrying three tons of supplies to the space station experienced a sudden drop in fuel pressure, triggering a premature automatic shutdown of the space craft’s third-stage engine. The spacecraft crashed in Siberia.
Russian officials are suspending future flights until they can determine what caused the accident.
NASA now says it may have to evacuate the station’s six-member crew in mid-November if resupply flights cannot resume by then. All of this follows the expiration of the U.S. space shuttle program this summer.
“As of this moment, only the Chinese have human access to space until the Soyuz launch vehicle is cleared for flight,” says Tea Party in Space President and National Coordinator Andrew Gasser, a former Air Force officer.
The troubling development highlights the need to provide full funding for NASA’S Commercial Crew Development program, which emphasizes space exploration by private industry under the auspices of NASA, Gasser says.
Commercial Crew would move NASA away from the crash space programs such as Constellation and the James Webb space telescope, which have been plagued by delays and billion-dollar cost overruns without actually producing a viable launch vehicle.
One measure of the seriousness of the situation: NASA officials are conceding there is a chance that the space station could be lost altogether if the crew has to be evacuated. Although its day-to-day operations can be controlled remotely, officials are concerned that they might not be able to respond if an emergency arises.
“There is a greater risk of losing the [space station] when it’s unmanned than if it were manned,” space station manager Michael Suffredini told The New York Times. “The risk increase is not insignificant.”
Tea Party in Space officials see NASA’s cost overruns as a microcosm of the larger bureaucratic snafus that plague the federal government generally. The failure to keep the space station properly supplied highlights the need for commercial access to space, they say. But political patronage from Beltway politicians is getting in the way, they say.
Congress has mandated that NASA proceed with a Space Launch System to get America back into space. But an independent audit last week from Booz Allen Hamilton estimated that the program will cost at least $38 billion over 10 years. And NASA officials have conceded that the launch system, which relies on older technology developed during the now-defunct space shuttle and Constellation programs, won’t be ready for launch until 2021 at the earliest.
“We put all our eggs in one basket and now we have to face the reality that [the space station] crew size may shrink and with it most of the ISS’ research productivity,” Gasser says.
Politicians in Washington are using NASA contracts to bail out shuttle contractors in their districts, rather than allowing NASA to embrace competition and free enterprise, Gasser says.
And Tea Party in Space Vice President Everett Wilkinson says, “This rocket that failed is the same rocket that will carry our brave astronauts into space” and the space station. :As of now, we’re stuck on the ground.
“Politicians, meanwhile, are still trying to push NASA to waste $38 billion that will take at least 10 years to launch a human into space. That’s a pretty warped sense of priorities,” Wilkinson said.
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