Smith Praises Commercial Crew Winners, Then Tries to Stab One in Back

Lamar Smith
Lamar Smith

Less than a month after praising Boeing and SpaceX for winning NASA Commercial Crew contracts, House Science, Space, and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) is eager to stab one of them in the back.

“I congratulate Boeing and SpaceX on their achievements in the Commercial Crew Program. Both companies and the thousands of people they employ have a crucial task before them as they work to further U.S. space exploration,” Smith said in a Sept. 16 statement. “They also have a responsibility to the U.S. taxpayers who are making considerable contributions to the development of these commercial space capabilities.”

Three weeks later, Smith had apparently decided that two commercial crew providers was one too many.

“If Orion could provide a redundant capability as a fallback for the commercial crew partners, why is it necessary to carry two partners to ensure competition in the constrained budget environment?” Smith asked in an Oct. 7 letter to NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. The letter was co-signed by House Science Space Subcommittee Chairman Steven Palazzo (R-Miss.).

My guess is that Bolden has explained why this wouldn’t work well to Congress many, many times. I’m also guessing that if NASA had to choose between commercial crew providers, it would probably select SpaceX because the company is further along toward crewed flights and costs far less than Boeing.

I’m not sure why Smith would take the risk of eliminating Boeing, which has  headquartered its commercial crew program in Houston.  Unless he believes the committee could force NASA to eliminate SpaceX and select Boeing despite the cost disparity.

Read Smith’s original statement of praise here. Space News has more details about the letter from Smith and Palazzo.