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House Republicans demand an explanation from NASA on Space Launch System slip

Space Launch System on the launch pad
Space Launch System on the launch pad
Photo by NASA/Getty Images

According to a Thursday post on the Space Politics blog, House Republicans are not amused at the likely slip of the first launch of the heavy lift Space Launch System. Reps. Lamar Smith, R-TX and Steven Palazzo, R-MS, who chair the full House Science Committee and its space subcommittee respectively, have demanded that NASA administrator Charles Bolden render an explanation of reports that both SLS and Orion were in danger of missing the planned December 2017. They seem to be prepared to blame President Obama for the budget shortfall that may have led to this.

Congress and the administration have been at loggerheads concerning space exploration in general ever since the president cancelled the Constellation program in 2010. It has always been a suspicion harbored by congressional supporters of the heavy lift rocket that the president and his people are actively attempting to sabotage the program. Those suspicions were somewhat buttressed early this year when former NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver called for the cancellation of the SLS project.

It is a badly kept secret that the administration is resentful that the Space Launch System, mandated by Congress, exists at all. The original post Constellation plan was to have a five year development program that would lead, perhaps, to a high tech heavy lift launcher. Congress believed that was just a bureaucratic dodge to delay and then kill the concept by studying it to death. That is why it decided to mandate a heavy lifter now and not sometime in the distant future.

However congressional complaints about lean NASA budgets leading to delays of the first launch of the SLS seems to ignore one salient fact. The power of the purse lays with Congress, not with the president. If Congress wanted the Space Launch System to be adequately funded and for a substantial mission, like a return to the moon, also paid for, it has the power to accomplish this fact. Thus far while there is a consensus that the Obama space program is broken, there seems to be no will to do anything about it except to complain.