NASA Administrator Major General Charles Bolden (USMC-ret.)

NASA Administrator Major General Charles Bolden says he will have to make cuts to NASA’s “Commercial Resupply Services” contract, Aviation Week reports.

NASA has awarded CRS contracts to Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) and Orbital Sciences Corporation for 12 and 8 cargo missions, valuaed at $1.6 billion and $1.9 billion, respectively.

On April 25, General Bolden told the Senate Appropriations Committee, “I’ll have to renegotiate those contracts. We won’t fly the number of missions that we have. Right now we’re flying 20 commercial cargo missions to the International Space Station over the next five years for three-point-some-odd billion dollars, an incredible value to the nation. I can’t carry that out under sequester.”

It’s hard to see how the proposed renegotiation would save money, however. The International Space Station needs a certain number of cargo flights to operate. There are some optional science experiments, but science aboard ISS is already severely restricted and it’s hard to see how it could be cut much further.

Unless NASA takes drastic measures, such as mothballing ISS, cargo flights are not optional. If NASA reduces the number of flights purchased from SpaceX and Orbital Sciences, it will have to increase the number of cargo flights provided by foreign partners (chiefly Russia). Since Russian flights are more expensive, this move would cost money, rather than saving money. NASA often contracts with foreign partners to provide flights through barter agreements, however, rather than cash deals. That enables both parties to hide the true cost of the arrangement. This is a game NASA officials have played often in the past.

Making things even harder are members of the so-called “new space” community who are divorced from budget reality. At this month’s Space Access Conference in Phoenix, James Muncy, president of the lobbying firm PoliSpace and co-founder of the Space Frontier Foundation, called for another big government space program, not to meet any specific purpose but merely to give the Space Launch System something to do. “SLS needs a destination,” Muncy said. Dr. Phillip Chapman, who was sitting next to him, retorted, “The destination should be the scrap heap.”

Dr. Chapman, who was one of the scientist-astronauts who trained but never flew during the Apollo program, is concerned not only with the growth of the Federal budget but also the effects of the Space Launch System, which would actually increase the cost of access of space. Chapman views cheap access to space as the key to all future space programs, both government and commercial, and sees the Space Launch System as a misguided step backward.

Such arguments did not sway everyone. Mr. Muncy explained that, as a lobbyist, he could not afford to take controversial positions against government programs since Congress would “take it out” on his other clients. Such political hostage taking is, of course, common in Washington and usually effective. As the old joke goes, “Profiles in Courage is a very thin book.”

Courage will be necessary if America’s space-policy problems are to be fixed, however, and that courage will have to come from outside the Beltway. Space policy is too important to be left to the wonks.

Written by Astro1 on April 30th, 2013 , Space Policy and Management

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    Terry P. commented

    SLS will be canceled, just a matter of when. NASA needs the money for real missions not the SLS mission to nowhere.

    April 30, 2013 at 9:04 pm
    john werneken commented

    Supposedly law makes for predictability peace and prosperity, but I do not think it works like that in a democracy, as opposed to a represenative conbstitutional republic. I pin my hopes on the thought tyhat non-state actors will in general overwhelm the physical ability of governments to set laws for them to follow, entirely.

    May 1, 2013 at 3:19 am
    James McEnanly commented

    This is a very short sighted thing to do. We should not rely solely on the Russians for access to a station that we built.

    May 15, 2013 at 3:40 am