by Douglas Messier
Former NASA Administrator Charles Bolden says he expects the agency’s expensive Space Launch System (SLS) will go away under during the next presidential term.
“SLS will go away. It could go away during a Biden administration or a next Trump administration … because at some point commercial entities are going to catch up,” he told Politico. “They are really going to build a heavy lift launch vehicle sort of like SLS that they will be able to fly for a much cheaper price than NASA can do SLS. That’s just the way it works.”
Congress will have something to say about the giant rocket designed to return astronauts to the moon under NASA’s Artemis program. Legislators have protected SLS and its two related programs, the Orion spacecraft and Exploration Ground Systems, despite large cost overruns and years of delays.
Critics have long advocated canceling SLS in favor of using SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy booster, which is already flying, and the Super Heavy and Starship boosters Elon Musk’s company is developing.
Blue Origin is also developing the New Glenn rocket, which could fill some of NASA’s needs for sending crews and supplies to the moon.
Aside from SLS, Bolden told Politico that he does not expect major space policy changes if Democrat Joe Biden wins the presidential election in November. Biden would likely focus NASA a bit more on Earth science as part of a larger effort to combat global warming, he said.
There is broad, bipartisan support for returning U.S. astronauts to the moon. The main disagreement is the schedule for doing so. Democrats who control the House of Representatives have rejected the Trump Administration’s plan to move the landing date up from 2028 to 2024.
The House Science Committee has not provided the budget increase NASA says it needs to meet the earlier date in its funding bill for fiscal year 2021. That measure will need to be reconciled with a more supportive bill from the Republican-controlled Senate.
The Obama Administration in which Biden served as vice president spent more money on Earth observation at NASA and global chance research across the federal government. The Trump Administration has been hostile to those initiatives.
Bolden said he has considered returning as NASA administrator if he was offered the job. However, he suggested Biden make history by appointing a woman for the first time in the agency’s history.
“I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t thought about it … but I think it’s critical to have a woman,” he said. “There are well-qualified women out there who are steeped in history in terms of their involvement with NASA or other organizations,” Bolden added.