Shelby: I Can’t Quit You, Shuttle!

Sen. Richard Shelby

The Decatur Daily explains how the United Launch Alliance facility in Dacatur, Ala. got no love from Sen. Richard Shelby:

As U.S. senators carved up the leftovers of NASA’s Constellation program for their states, most of the meat went to Utah and Huntsville.

United Launch Alliance, with its assembly plant in Decatur, got the bone.

The ranking Republican member of the committee that wrote the budget authorization that would effectively exclude ULA from participating in the development of a heavy-lift rocket was Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Tuscaloosa.

“The Senate authorization bill calls for the use of solid-rocket motors that would not be common with (ULA’s) Delta IV,” explained George Sowers, ULA’s vice president of business development. “They’re more like the space shuttle motors. The Senate bill was really trying to specify using shuttle-derived type systems. The Senate bill would push you away from using ULA-derived components.

“The Senate authorization bill was very prescriptive, basically telling NASA, ‘You’re going to have to build this exact rocket.’ I think that’s where everybody has a little bit of concern about Congress getting outside of its realm of expertise.”

In other words, we will continue using the same shuttle technology that dates back to the 1970’s in order to keep the same people employed in Alabama and Utah. However, they will be building a heavy-lift vehicle for which we have no immediate need and no clear mission that costs a fortune to build and operate.

“You have to be able to define some clear mission requirements. It’s nice to say, ‘75 metric tons or 100,’ but you have to fill in the blanks,” Phil Marshall, previously manager of ULA’s Decatur facility, said. “In order to do what? If we’re just going to build a heavy-lift rocket for the sake of saying, ‘I have a heavy-lift rocket,’ that’s where it gets a little bit scattered. That’s part of what the technical folks struggle with. If it’s vague, it’s hard to come up with a definite design.”

The other interesting thing in the article: Alabama’s other Senator, Jeff Sessions, doesn’t seem to know much of anything about ULA.

In an interview while in Decatur, Sessions — who had already voted in favor of the NASA authorization bill that excluded ULA — said he did not know enough about the company to comment….

More education may be necessary. During the interview in Decatur two weeks ago, Sessions repeatedly referred to ULA as “UAL.”

All may not be lost for ULA, however. If the Administration succeeds in killing the smaller Ares I, the company could end up providing Delta IV or Atlas V rockets for orbital human and cargo transport. That would bring more jobs to Alabama.

Read the full story.