Arizona Could Benefit From New NASA Plan, But Giffords Still Skeptical

Asteroid Ida

The Tucson Chronicle has an interesting article about how NASA’s new human spaceflight program could bring substantial federal funding to Southern Arizona. This prospect poses an interesting dilemma for Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, a critic of the program who chairs the House Committee on Science and Technology’s subcommittee on space and aeronautics.

A human mission to an asteroid “certainly requires homework to be done” in picking safe and useful objects to visit, said Mark Sykes, director and CEO of the Tucson-based Planetary Science Institute. “A lot of that work can be done in Arizona,” he said…

Jane Poynter, president of Tucson’s Paragon Space Development Corp., attended the Obama speech as part of a group of new commercial space company leaders who have been dubbed the “Merchant 7,” a play on the nickname given to the original seven Mercury program astronauts of the early 1960s.

“It was really exciting,” Poynter said. “You can argue the details, but what is fantastic is that the president shown a really bright spotlight on NASA and space exploration in general.”

Paragon’s specialty is developing environmental and life support systems for manned spacecraft. It won a $1.4 million contract from NASA in February to develop a generic system for future human spacecraft. This makes the company well placed to work with any larger rocket-manufacturing company that might emerge with a successful design for launching humans, whether it be a capsule, such as the NASA Orion system that may be retained (at least in part), or a new design.

Giffords, who is married to a current NASA astronaut, told the newspaper that she is encouraged by recent efforts by the Obama Administration to find common ground with Congressional critics. However, she still feels the plan falls short in a number of areas, and that the benefits to Arizona are not entirely certain.

“More fundamentally, the new plan does not address the human space flight gap, it doesn’t provide a clear plan or path beyond low Earth orbit, and it doesn’t address the risks posed by sole dependence on commercial crew that have been raised in numerous congressional hearings.”

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