A Brief History Review for Sen. Richard Shelby

By Jeff Krukin, Posted 06/09/09


Sen. Richard ShelbyOriginal written, 09 June 2009

Sen. Richard Shelby (R. - Ala.) is unhappy because NASA Administrator Christopher Scolese intends to use $150 million of the $400 million NASA received as part of the stimulus package to support the development of commercial space transportation for delivering cargo and personnel to the space station.

His rationale reveals an astounding lack of historical perspective. 

During a May 21st hearing of the Senate Appropriations Commerce, Justice, and Science Subcommittee hearing, the Senator stated, "I believe that manned spaceflight is something that is still in the realm of government, because despite their best efforts, some truly private enterprises have not been able to deliver on plans of launching vehicles."

I guess he missed the successful launch of Space Exploration Technologies' (SpaceX) Falcon 1 rocket on Sept. 28, 2008. 

And that's just recent history.  Sherman, set the Wayback Machine to 1960:

"On 28 July 1960, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) announced a new manned spaceflight program.  Called Apollo, its aim was to put three astronauts into sustained earth orbit, or into a flight around the moon.  The timing of the announcement was not auspicious.  The next day, NASA's first Mercury-Atlas (MA-1) disintegrated and fell into the ocean 58 seconds after takeoff from Cape Canaveral.  This disaster ushered in a bleak four months during which the test rocket Little Joe 5 joined the MA-1 in the ocean, and the first Mercury-Redstone lifted a fraction fo an inch and settled back on its launch pad."  (Source: "Moonport:  A History of Apollo Launch Facilities and Operations," NASA SP-4204, p. xv) 

I understand the Senator's need and desire to to protect the jobs of his constituents at NASA's Marshall Spaceflight Center, but attempting to force an either/or choice between Federal and commercial space transportation is not the answer.  That's as false a choice as Moon vs. Mars and manned vs. robotic space exploration.  Both NASA and NewSpace have valid and valuable roles to play, so let's please not waste time and energy creating a schism where one need not exist.


Sen. Shelby "Suggests" Different Approach to White House and NASA

From: Richard Mains, 07/03/09

A July 1, 2009 update on NASAwatch.com indicates that Shelby fought both the White House and NASA over this issue and apparently won. Keith Cowing reports, “He threatened to put amendments into legislation that would punish various field centers at NASA (other than MSFC of course) that have been involved in commercialization by stripping them of facilities or programs so as to send a message. Shelby has also talked of putting a hold on the nomination of Bolden and Garver if he did not get his way. Apparently, he has gotten his way and The White House/NASA have compromised on how that stimulus money will be spent – to Shelby’s satisfaction.” Regardless of whether NASA provides seed funds to COTS partners for support of human transport to space, Shelby will likely do all he can to block the private sector from making any real contribution to NASA’s space transport infrastructure since he sees it as a threat to the NASA/MSFC Constellation turf. That NASA should support lower-cost commercial space transport as an alternative to government systems is written into current congressional policy. This issue needs to be formally addressed by congress, the White House and the new NASA Administrator in an open forum to establish clear guidelines that will be followed, including by Shelby.

Re: Falcon I has not yet succeeded.

From: Rick Boozer, 06/15/09

"Just putting something into some orbit is not sufficient to call Falcon I a success – commercial launches are judged by whether they acheive the intended orbit which the one Space X orbital launch to date did not." From the SpaceX website: "The data shows we achieved a super precise orbit insertion — middle of the bull's-eye — and then went on to coast and restart the second stage, which was icing on the cake." It appears that the post by "aertful dodger" was merely an attempt at an "artful dodge" of the truth.

Falcon I has not succeeded yet

From: Aertful Dodger, 06/15/09

Just putting something into some orbit is not sufficient to call Falcon I a success - commercial launches are judged by whether they acheive the intended orbit which the one Space X orbital launch to date did not. Now it has often taken dozens of launches in the past to finally get a successful launcher - Space X may yet make it - but they aren't there yet no matter how well they've spun their PR. Beyond that, the orders of magnitude of greater complexity in the Falcon IX and its Dragon cargo carrier make it even more difficult to see how they will succeed in time to meet their COTS committments.

Real Republicanism?

From: Chris Mishu, 06/15/09

The plain and simple fact is this: if the United States does not come up with reliable commercial or governmental medium/heavy launch vehicles for cargo or personnel, we stand to cede the market to the Europeans, Russians or Chinese, and that doesn't raise the possibility of Indian or Japanese competition. As things stand now, we're paying $51 million a SEAT to the Russians just to maintain a presence on the ISS. Three questions, then, for Senator Shelby: 1) Is it in the best interest commericially to aid other nations by providing money (and therefore, increased infrastructure) when we buy their services? 2) Is it fiscally responsible? The numbers would seem to say no. 3) Aren't REAL Republicans those who believe the government should get out of the way of business and let the market provide the needs more efficiently? Fiscal conservatives should be outraged, no matter of what Shelby's motives are. He should fold his cards quietly and let the market decide.

The Senator From Huntsville

From: Rand Simberg, 06/15/09

"Neither of the existing commercial heavy lift vehicles that could be quickly adapted for human spaceflight, Atlas V or Delta IV, are built in Alabama." Really? Did they move Decatur, Alabama, (in Decatur County, just west of Huntsville) to some other state?

Allowing the innovation of private industry to flourish

From: Sean Casey, 06/15/09

The government needs to embrace the operational skills of private industry to service the space station and LEO. NASA dollars saved should go to new high-risk ventures (e.g exploration of Mars). Older, business-as-usual operational methodologies must make way for innovation. The business of the U.S. is business - not government run monopolies. We would not have an airline industry if the postmaster general of the 1930's kept airmail services within the Federal Government. (The Roosevelt administration tired to reverse this decision and it was a disaster.) The US needs to lead private spaceflight and our tax dollar need to encourage and support the growth of this entrepreneurial industry.

Senator Shelby's strange turn on Ronald Reagan

From: Joel Raupe, 06/13/09

It's easy to get lost in the Beltline Bubble, where just one technique used by leaders and others to master events is ceaseless hustling of Members of Congress. It's also easy to forget your native language in the total immersion in a culture speaking a different language, especially when that language uses the same words, body language and tone of voice. I can sympathize, with Senator Shelby in this regard, because I spent much of my formative period living and working on Capitol Hill, and in leadership offices for the Democrats. I became a Republican only later, after I had moved away from my hometown and learned an entirely different definition for pragmatism. Senator Shelby's apparent stand on Orbital, SpaceX and COTS in general surprised me not because of his strong support for Marshall, which might be better advocated for in support of Constellation funding, but because his stand seemed appallingly dismissive of two vitally important Conservative principles. The search for Off-Sets, shaving discretionary programs to pay for expansions in the budget had been part of the language of the Hill for many years, but this makes NASA low-hanging fruit for those who haven't bothered to examine whether the High Ground of Space is worth our trouble. Nevertheless, in a short-term budget environment, dealing with necessarily long-term commitments, most especially when the battle moves to incredible amounts of deficit spending, requires more than ever a reminder of the failure of Zero-Sum economics. Beyond the stimulus, the budget expansion alone can't be paid for with taxes. It will require a doubling in size of our national economy. That means tax reform, real tax cuts, as the only way to meets these new obligations throughout federal spending. Advocating such a true stimulus to the economy and federal revenues through tax cuts, as John Kennedy and Ronald Reagan put first on their agendas, is not served by looking even at NASA's part in last February's stimulus package as a Zero-Sum game. The Senator also made me wonder if he still spoke Republican when dismissing the role relatively small business must play in NASA's successes in the future, as they have in the past. Eighty percent of the new jobs in the past quarter century have been created by small business, and its only natural to believe this should continue. It's not an original observation to share relief the Senator's feeling did not predominate a century ago at the dawn of air travel. Through postal contracts, indeed through the late 1960's in commercial air travel, and even now through the infrastructure of the FAA, and also by way of military spending, there is no doubt that federal policy and spending had a huge role in the development of both civil and military aviation. Without the role of private development it is unlikely we would have attained and surpassed the world in that field. It is only logical to catch up and realize the natural extension of that partnership is essential if the cost of an inevitable space industry is to be brought down, and even if the United States to to lead the world for much longer in space travel. In fifty years, from 1903 through 1953 astounding developments in aviation came into being, with dramatic testing and danger. No real competition ever surpassed the United States over that time period, though Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union definitely tried. Comparing that success with the past fifty years of the Space Age shows it is long overdue for the United States to honor its treaties and at the same time open up the sky to private capital investment and daring. It is a choice between the fate of Portugal, retreating after the beginning of the Age of Exploration, and England or France, continuously innovating to take full advantage of the New Frontier. To choose the former destiny just wouldn't be Republican.

Shelby vs the Private Space Economy

From: John Strickland, 06/12/09

Senator Shelby is clearly acting here in the interests of what could be termed "The Space-Industrial Complex". This association of big companies and big government are working together to keep the existing space jobs in the existing locations. The existence of the big companies was of course, crucial to the development of our initial space launch and in-space operational capabilities, such as during Apollo. However, it is now 2009, not 1969. Today, his position is clearly against the interests of newspace, space development, and a private space economy. The government, by its actions, deliberate or not, has succeeded in preventing the successful development of that economy for decades, by "forcing" the continued use of expendable launchers, which has kept payload costs as high as 50 million dollars a ton. The basic question is: do all those space sector workers, even the ones in Alabama, want to keep proudly building throw-away rocket parts forever, or would they rather be building lunar mining base hardware or Mars Habitats? Any pro-space organization which does not issue an immediate condemnation of this defenseless position is abrogating its responsibility to the future.

Beyond Logic and Precedent

From: Eric Brachhausen, 06/12/09

Prior comments have amply demonstrated that Sen. Shelby's position is in a realm beyond the reach of logic and precedent. It will not make a difference whether he is presented with numerous examples of more cost-effective tradeoffs for achieving safe, routine, affordable access to space. Likewise, historical examples of government stimulating activities that eventually become market enterprises will bounce off his phaser shield of self-interest. Who does he think designed and built all of the hardware used by NASA to access space, anyway? Better to put one's energy into extending the track record of private launch success to become irrefutable.

Public and Private Space Efforts Need Each Other

From: Michael Belfiore, 06/12/09

The fact is that NASA cannot both fulfill its commitment to the International Space Station and return to the moon without help from private companies. When the shuttle retires next year, there will be no American vehicles capable of servicing Space Station unless SpaceX or Orbital Sciences succeeds in getting there under their NASA contracts. NASA's William Gersteinmaier, Associate Administrator for Space Operations, was quite frank in a recent conversation with me in saying that NASA absolutely is depending on SpaceX and Orbital for its continued use of Space Station. On the other hand, on a recent trip to SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, California, I saw firsthand how NASA money had given a tremendous boost to that company's development efforts. For NASA to do its job of blazing the trail to new frontiers, it needs to be able to hand over routine access to low Earth orbit to the private sector. For the private sector to establish itself in orbit, it needs the support of the Federal government. Cooperation, not competition, between the two will win the day.

Our hopes for Senator Shelby

From: Eric Dahlstrom, 06/12/09

I see that Senator Shelby introduces himself this way: "Richard Shelby, Alabama's senior United States Senator, was first elected to the Senate in 1986 with an undeniable commitment to Alabama and the simple philosophy that a smaller government can also be a more effective government." http://shelby.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?FuseAction=AboutSenatorShelby.Biography Perhaps Senator Shelby is not getting the right information from his staff, but whatever the cause, the Senator is on the wrong side with his current opposition to COTS funding. Outer space should not be seen as an exclusive domain of government. While Alabama workers support Federal government efforts, I am sure they are also capable of fully participating in private space efforts, and the potential expansion of economic activity. Alabama workers do not need to be protected. They have all the skills needed to explore and develop space, and can be at the forefront of private space enterprise. For another historical example, consider the Federal government's Fort Worth in Texas. The fort was established in 1849 and only lasted a couple years at that site. But a COTS-like 'buy commercial' policy at Fort Worth in 1849 quickly established a local town, that continued to grow. Today, the entire Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area (6 million people) exists because of that simple Federal policy that allowed the government to commercially supply a government outpost, and stimulate private enterprise for a couple years. I doubt if the government policy makers 160 years ago could imagine that buying supplies and a few wagon carts for an isolated government outpost could have such far-reaching implications. Of course, there are many other historical examples that demonstrate the power of private enterprise to create huge economic benefits, and the benefits of Federal policies that encourage private enterprise. Many in the space world believe that these historical examples from the frontier are prelude to the economic development of space in the coming years. On the losing side of history are those policies that try to protect government-subsidized jobs. Given Senator Shelby's previous positions, we are surprised to see him defending space as a government-only domain. To consider the vastness of space and say 'this is reserved for the government' - can there be any greater opposite of "small government"? What the state of Alabama needs now is a Senator with a vision of the future, a grounding in history, support of free enterprise, and a belief in the skills of the workers of Alabama to fully participate in the future development of space. We had hoped Senator Shelby was that man.

Forgoten private enterpreneurs on human space flight

From: Charis Kosmas, 06/12/09

Sen. Richard Shelby forgets apparently the success of the organizers and of the winners of the Ansari X PRIZE. Both (organizers and winner) deserve being mentioned equally, especially under the light of the recent remarks by R Shelby. Which side Mr Shelby was bidding with before the success of this dream achievement ? I guess, very safely I believe, that he was within those who were laughing with the overall idea. Let’s remind him just that, anyone who has access to him, hint a bit of an introvert analysis before he does the analysis of NASA on this particular topic. Note also that it is statistically safe to predict the failure of risky business, and this is the decision mechanism of most politicians today. They stay short of doing any logical analysis, weighting of the value of the possible outcomes and choosing of the actions with output F(merit * probability). The whole factor “merit” is usually forgotten and merely the probability is mentally addressed. And since placing the right question, they say, may reveal the right answer, I attempt :“What is the value, Sen Richard Shelby, of a successful private space industry ?”. NOTA: Please consider beyond your constituency. Beyond that, what is the value of heroes who fall for noble causes ? In my personal view, even the failures for certain period of certain visionaries like the self taught Tsiolkovsky, like Walt Anderson fuels the imagination and the passion of others. Shall we stop attempting because we or someone else one has failed on attempting a difficult cause ? And being of Greek origin, permit me to ask of the value of the sacrifice of the 300 soldiers of Leonidas. Do Sen Richard Shelby feel that it was futile and useless ? if so why it was a recent success of the film industry ? Please try to link those seemingly remote facts, and please try to be gentle with the altruists (unknown word ?) of our days.

Being fair to the Senator FOR Alabama

From: Bob Werb, 06/12/09

This is entirely unfair to Senator Shelby! He is the Senator FOR Alabama. If you look at Senator web pages you will see that many Senators say that they are there FOR their state and not for the people of the United States. Others say they are United States Senators FROM their state. Such Senators should obviously be held to a different standard than those whose clearly stated purpose is to represent the interest of one state only. Senators like Shelby, who make it clear that they are disinterested in the people of the other 49 states, should fairly be judged only from the perspective of their own state. Neither of the existing commercial heavy lift vehicles that could be quickly adapted for human spaceflight, Atlas V or Delta IV, are built in Alabama. SpaceX also is not in Alabama. From the perspective of Alabama, manned spaceflight is indeed something that is still in the realm of government and it is the job of the Republican, Socialist Senator FOR Alabama to make sure it stays that way!

Will the Lower-Cost Competition Just Go Away?...Please!

From: Richard Mains, 06/11/09

Krukin provides a dramatic slice of NASA launch failure history to counter Sen. Shelby's view that only the government can build reliable launchers for support of human spaceflight. The launchers of the Apollo era were built by industry contractors to the government who had to learn from their mistakes just like industry is doing now via a public-private partnership with NASA called “Commercial Orbital Transportation Services”. It is working well and NASA rightly takes pride in the partnership as a win-win proposition. One of the COTS partners, SpaceX, who Shelby would like to keep from transporting NASA-related people to space, began in 2002 by hiring the best staff available from anywhere, including NASA, because they needed to succeed and at a rapid pace. SpaceX intends to build the most reliable, elegantly simple, and low-cost launch and spacecraft systems possible and sell them to government and industry as a highly competitive product, along with their services. The Marshall Space Flight Center that Shelby so carefully watches over from his desk near our nation's capital needs to focus on what it does best which is to support high-risk R&D on new space transportation systems, not attempt to compete as a lean, smart launch vehicle provider which is neither its mandate nor its expertise. All agree that NASA needs lower-cost launch vehicles provided by U.S. industry to support operations on the ISS and beyond. Shelby is battling against our industrial innovative strength which is a losing proposition for us all. Let's get on with it and work together for the nation's best interests.

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