Musk Lobbies on Capitol Hill as Dragon Launch Slips Again

Artists conception of SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft in orbit

A couple of brief SpaceX related news items. Space News reports that the next Falcon 9 launch has slipped from Oct. 23 to Nov. 8 or 9. The rocket will launch the first Dragon cargo freighter on a test flight. The program is already running two years behind the original schedule.

The flight, a demonstration test of the medium-class rocket and space capsule being developed under NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program, was originally slated to occur in September 2008, according to the company’s 2006 NASA Space Act Agreement. The document was later modified to reflect a June 2009 initial demonstration flight. Routine resupply runs to the international space station were expected to follow as early as December of this year, but hardware development has taken longer than planned.

The Washington Post also has a story about SpaceX Founder Elon Musk’s lobbying efforts on behalf of President Barack Obama’s plan to commercialize NASA’s human spaceflight program.

Musk, a native of South Africa, has spent much of this year meeting with receptive members of Congress, urging supporters to lobby lawmakers and pointedly criticizing key Republicans for opposing Obama’s plan. He also has increased the pace of his federal campaign contributions.

Since 2003, Musk has given about $300,000 to federal candidates, divided evenly between Democrats and Republicans, according to records compiled by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. In the first six months of 2010, however, Musk donated nearly $71,000 to Democrats, compared with less than $7,000 to Republicans from him or his company’s PAC, the data show…

John M. Logsdon, who was the longtime director of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University, said Musk “doesn’t mind making himself the poster child” because of his self-confidence and ambition. But, he added, it’s not clear how much Musk has helped Obama’s cause.

“It makes it easier to attack,” Logsdon said. “They can say: ‘Look at this young South African guy who’s never done anything. We’re depending on him?’ “

Logsdon raises a good point. Brash figures like Musk are not at all out-of-place in either Silicon Valley, where he made his fortune, or the Los Angeles area, where SpaceX builds its rockets.

But, the style doesn’t play quite as well in the more conservative Washington culture. The power brokers there are not keen on outsiders coming in and telling them what to do. Especially with a program so intimately tied to national pride (we landed people on the friggin’ moon, for God’s sake!). Musk’s inability to keep a low profile or hide his utter disdain for anyone who disagrees with him have combined to make him a very easy target.