That Awkward Moment When Congress Thinks They Know What’s Best For NASA But Don’t

By Will LeBlanc | 9 years ago

Sad news this morning as further budget cuts are heading NASA’s way from a Congress that somehow thinks they know what’s best for the US space program. Before you government advocates get all up in arms (just kidding, I know there’s no such thing as a government advocate), recognize that we do understand that the US budget is limited and that in this day and age the cuts have to come from somewhere so Republicans don’t lose their shit. However, taking money from what this nerd considers one of the most important government programs doesn’t strike me as the best idea.

In a long and mildly confusing article at Ars Technica, details of the House and Senate opinions on where NASA’s cuts should be made are explained in detail, but I’ll try to simplify it a little. Currently there are four companies producing vehicles for the Commercial Crew program, whose goal is to provide cost effective access to low Earth orbit as well as the ISS. Each of the companies, Boeing, Space X, Sierra Nevada, and Blue Origin, are each being subsidized by NASA’s dwindling budget.

To solve this glut of spending, the Senate has suggested a “leader-follower paradigm” in which NASA selects a winner to receive a larger subsidy, and a secondary company to receive a smaller cash injection as back up, leaving the other companies in the space dust. This sounds like a great idea as a simple way to cut costs. Sure competition breeds innovation, but this kind of competition is much too costly and is hindering progress. Cutting two large costs will help NASA make the most of their budget, and allow them to focus on one or two producers instead of four. The frontrunner for the leader position has reportedly been Boeing, but that is not yet official.

Because of underfunding, NASA has been employing Space Act Agreements which allows them to basically outsource help on projects that their partners fund themselves. This keeps NASA’s cost down, but opens their doors to more people than the government would like. Space exploration is still a battle, so of course they want the utmost secrecy, but how will NASA get anything done on their own if they can’t afford it.

Finally, Congress has forced the expensive and inefficient “Space Launch System” on NASA, making them take possession of a rocket they don’t want, and must have ready to lift 130 metric tons into orbit, despite the fact that there is no sign of needing such a mission anywhere to be seen. The launch itself is so expensive though that it can only be launched every two years, which has sparked talk that this program with be clipped before it even gets going. Obviously, Congress has some plan to launch themselves into space to start developing some nefarious plot to take over the world. We won’t hear anything for 60 years, and then they’ll nuke us… just like BSG.

NASA clearly has a few places where they can legitimately tighten up their budget, but forcing them to tighten up and then taking that money away is a bad plan. It’s simple–someday we will need off this rock, and NASA are the people that are going to get us there. Not old men in suits sitting in a crowded room filibustering all day about taking away women’s rights, real scientists building vehicles to take us to infinity and beyond. We keep hoping that someday we’ll have good news about NASA, unfortunately that day is not today.