Many Witnesses, Only One Senator

Many Witnesses, Only One Senator

The Senate had a busy day today, so the Senate hearing on assessing commercial space capabilities was both delayed and interrupted by votes on the floor, and Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) was the only Senator present except for a brief visit by Senator Hutchison (R-TX) to read an opening statement. The prepared testimony of the seven witnesses and the webcast of the hearing are on the committee’s website.

Senator Nelson again said that the biggest problem with NASA’s new plan for human space flight is the way it was rolled out, and reiterated that President Obama is a strong supporter of human space flight, which he will make clear at his April 15 “space conference” at Kennedy Space Center. The Senator revealed that he is trying to convince the President to launch one more shuttle mission beyond the four remaining on the manifest. NASA will have a “launch on need” mission ready to go in case any problems develop with the last mission and Senator Nelson wants to see that one launched regardless of whether it is needed as a rescue flight. As for more shuttle flights beyond that, he seems convinced that the time has passed for trying to extend the shuttle. As others have stated, it would take two to two-and-a-half years to ready another External Tank, so a gap between the shuttle and whatever comes after it is inevitable.

In her brief appearance, Senator Hutchison spoke about her bill (S. 3068), which would extend the shuttle. She emphasized the need to assure that the United States can send its own astronauts into space rather than relying on the Russians, and that the commercial sector needs time to prove its capabilities.

SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell stuck to the company’s guns that SpaceX could launch astronauts to the space station within three years of getting a contract to do so. Michael Gass of United Launch Alliance and Frank Culbertson of Orbital Sciences were a little more reserved. Gass said that that four years is achievable for a human flight (three years for an uncrewed test flight). Culbertson declined to give a firm estimate, emphasizing that his company has not yet seen the requirements it will have to meet. He said it could be three to four years, or even five.

A summary of the hearing will be available soon.

User Comments has the right (but not the obligation) to monitor the comments and to remove any materials it deems inappropriate.  We do not post comments that include links to other websites since we have no control over that content nor can we verify the security of such links.