Texas Congressional Delegation Wants Crewed Lunar Lander Managed by NASA Johnson

Astronauts explore a crater at the lunar south pole. (Credit: NASA)

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine is set to speak at Marshall Space Flight Center on Friday where he is expected to announce that the Alabama field center will manage the lander being designed to land American astronauts on the moon by 2024.

Members of Texas’ Congressional delegation are urging Bridenstine to hold off on the decision.

U.S. Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and John Cornyn (R-Texas) along with Rep. Brian Babin (R-Texas) today urged NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine to reconsider his decision and refrain from an official announcement until an official briefing is held.

In a letter to Administrator Bridenstine, the lawmakers wrote:

“The Johnson Space Center has served as NASA’s lead center for human spaceflight for more than half a century. […] ‘Houston’ was one of the first words ever uttered on the Moon, and Houston, the city that last sent man to the Moon, should be where the lander that will once again send Americans to the lunar surface is developed. Accordingly, we request that you reconsider this decision, and hold off on any formal announcements until we can receive a briefing on this matter that includes the timeline, projected cost, and rationale for this decision.”

No word yet on whether the event will go on as scheduled at 3:10 p.m. EDT Friday, Aug. 16. The remarks will air live on NASA Television and the agency’s website

A press release and the letter sent to Bridenstine follow.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – In response to a news report that NASA will designate the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, to lead the development of the human-classed lunar lander for the Artemis program over the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas – which has served as NASA’s lead center for human spaceflight for more than half a century – U.S. Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and John Cornyn (R-Texas) along with Rep. Brian Babin (R-Texas) today urged NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine to reconsider his decision and refrain from an official announcement until an official briefing is held.

In a letter to Administrator Bridenstine, the lawmakers wrote:

“The Johnson Space Center has served as NASA’s lead center for human spaceflight for more than half a century. […] ‘Houston’ was one of the first words ever uttered on the Moon, and Houston, the city that last sent man to the Moon, should be where the lander that will once again send Americans to the lunar surface is developed. Accordingly, we request that you reconsider this decision, and hold off on any formal announcements until we can receive a briefing on this matter that includes the timeline, projected cost, and rationale for this decision.”

In 2018, Sens. Cruz and Cornyn sent a letter with Rep. Babin, and former Reps. John Culberson (R-Texas), and Lamar Smith (R-Texas) requesting the Johnson Space Center be the location of the new lunar lander program.

The follow-up letter to Administrator Bridenstine can be read here and below.

August 15, 2019

The Honorable James F. Bridenstine
Administrator
National Aeronautics and Space Administration
300 E. St. SW
Washington, D.C. 20546

Dear Administrator Bridenstine,

We are writing to you today in light of a recent report that this Friday, August 16, 2019, you plan to announce that the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama will manage the development of the lunar lander for the Artemis program and oversee the commercial development of two of the three elements, the Transfer Element and Descent Element, of that lander. According to that same report the Johnson Space Center, in Houston, Texas, will oversee the commercial development of only one of three elements, the Ascent Element. This is very troubling if accurate.

While the Marshall Space Flight Center specializes in rocketry and spacecraft propulsion, and is undoubtedly the leader in these areas, it is the Johnson Space Center, which has been, and continues to be, ground zero for human space exploration. We are deeply concerned that NASA is not only disregarding this history but that splitting up the work on the lander between two different geographic locations is an unnecessary and a counterproductive departure from the unquestionable success of the previous lunar lander program. The integration of development responsibilities into one center-ideally the center with the longest history and deepest institutional knowledge of human space exploration-would be the most cost-efficient, streamlined, and effective approach, and is the approach that NASA should pursue.

As you may recall, on August 28, 2018, we sent you a letter articulating the reasons why the Johnson Space Center would be the most appropriate home for the lunar lander program. In that letter, we highlighted the Johnson Space Center’s storied history as the lead center for human spaceflight and deep experience with human space exploration, and expressed our strong desire that it be selected as the NASA Center responsible for establishing and leading the lunar lander program. While much has changed in the intervening year, our feelings on this matter have not.

The Johnson Space Center has served as NASA’s lead center for human spaceflight for more than half a century. It is home to our nation’s astronaut corps, the International Space Station mission operations, and the Orion crew, and the men and women working there possess both the institutional knowledge and technical expertise needed to manage all facets of the successful development of a lunar lander for the Artemis program. “Houston” was one of the first words ever uttered on the Moon, and Houston, the city that last sent man to the Moon, should be where the lander that will once again send Americans to the lunar surface is developed.

Accordingly, we request that you reconsider this decision, and hold off on any formal announcements until we receive a briefing on this matter that includes the timeline, projected cost, and rational for this decision.

Please contact Duncan Rankin at 202-224-5922, Andrew Cooper at 202-224-2934, and Steve Janushkowsky at 202-225-1555 with any questions regarding this request. Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter.

Sincerely,

NASA’s Uncertain Path Back to the Moon

Astronauts explore a crater at the lunar south pole. (Credit: NASA)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Nothing illustrates the changes wrought by the Trump Administration’s decision to move up the deadline for returning astronauts to the moon from 2028 to 2024 than a pair of contracts NASA awarded for the Lunar Gateway that will serve as a staging point for the landing.

In May, Maxar won a competitively awarded $375 million contract to build the Gateway’s Power and Propulsion Element (PPE). NASA released a source selection statement that detailed how officials evaluated the five bids they received and why Maxar’s proposal was superior to the others.

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Cruz Reintroduces Space Frontier Act

Sen. Ted Cruz

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Ted Cruz PR) — U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), chairman of the Subcommittee on Aviation and Space, along with Sens. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), and Gary Peters (D-Mich.) this week introduced the Space Frontier Act. This bipartisan bill would secure funding to continue operations for the International Space Station (ISS) through 2030, eliminate overreaching regulations to support further development of the commercial space sector, and to strengthen America’s leadership in space exploration. Read the full text of the bill here.

“I am proud of this bipartisan legislation as it will help to fortify America’s leadership in the domain of space,” Sen. Cruz said. “The Space Frontier Act moves our nation forward in taking the critical step of continuing the operations and utilization of the International Space Station through 2030, securing the United States’ competitive edged against China in low-Earth orbit, and enacts meaningful reforms to modernize our nation’s launch and re-entry regulations, and streamlines nongovernmental Earth observation regulations.”

“Arizona is home to a thriving aerospace manufacturing community,” said Senator Sinema. “We’re working across the aisle to cut red tape, support our space industry, and ensure that the United States continues to be a leader in the global space community.”

“Fifty years after the United States first put a man on the moon, we are in the midst of a new and exciting space race,” Wicker said. “This challenge requires policy certainty, partnerships with the private sector and our friends across the globe, and America’s continuing competitive edge and innovative thinking. The Space Frontier Act would ensure American leadership in space for years to come.”

“This bill passed the Senate through unanimous consent last year, and I am glad to continue this bipartisan effort to provide certainty and a firmer launchpad for our commercial space industry,” Sen. Markey said. “Our sky should not be a ceiling for innovation and achievement, and the Space Frontier Act will help the American space industry achieve new heights, all while protecting small businesses and the scientific research that benefits all Americans through innovation and discovery.”











NASA Inspector General Skeptical of Agency Plan for Commercializing Space Station

NASA astronaut Michael Hopkins conducts a session with the Capillary Flow Experiment. (Credit: NASA)

The NASA Inspector General is skeptical about the space agency’s plan to transition to commercial operations in Earth orbit after the end of direct federal support for the International Space Station (ISS) in 2024, according to a new report.

“Transitioning the ISS to private operation under the timetable currently envisioned presents significant challenges in stimulating private sector interest to take on an extremely costly and complex enterprise,” the audit found. “Based on our audit work, we question the viability of NASA’s current plans, particularly with regard to the feasibility of fostering increased commercial activity in low Earth orbit on the timetable proposed…

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Sens. Cruz, Nelson & Markey Introduce Space Frontier Act

Sen. Ted Cruz

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Ted Cruz PR) – U.S. Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), and Ed Markey (D-Mass.), members of the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, on Wednesday introduced the Space Frontier Act (S. 3277).

This commercial space bill builds upon the 2015 Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act by streamlining and reforming the regulatory framework for commercial space launch and Earth observation operations, which is crucial to maintaining American leadership in space.

The bill also extends the operation and utilization of the International Space Station (ISS) through 2030 to ensure that the U.S. is getting the maximum return on American taxpayer investment to avoid creating a leadership vacuum in low Earth orbit.

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Cruz, Nelson Criticize Plan to End Direct ISS Funding in 2025

International Space Station (Credit: NASA)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Sharply conflicting opinions about the future of the International Space Station (ISS) and America’s path forward in space were on view last week in a Senate hearing room turned boxing ring.

In one corner was NASA Associate Administrator Bill Gerstenamier, representing a Trump Administration that wants to end direct federal funding for ISS in 2025 in order to pursue an aggressive campaign of sending astronauts back to the moon. NASA would maintain a presence in Earth orbit, becoming one of multiple users aboard a privatized ISS or privately-owned stations.

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A Closer Look at NASA’s Proposed Human Exploration Plan

Credit: NASA

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

NASA would launch the first element of a human-tended Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway in 2022 under a proposed exploration plan that would make use of commercial and international partnerships.

A power and propulsion module would be followed soon afterward by habitation, airlock, and logistics modules. The gateway would serve as a base for astronauts to explore the moon for the first time since Apollo 17 lifted off from the surface in 1972.

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Bridenstine Nomination to Run NASA Remains Blocked in Senate

Rep. Jim Bridenstine

Bloomberg has an update on the impasse in the Senate over the Trump Administration’s nomination of Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK) to become the next NASA administrator.

Bridenstine has been blocked by all 49 Senate Democrats. Florida’s Congressional delegation enjoys an outsized influence on NASA because of Cape Canaveral, and Senator Bill Nelson, who flew on the Space Shuttle Columbia in 1986, isn’t a Bridenstine fan. His colleague Marco Rubio, the junior senator for the Sunshine State and a Republican, doesn’t want Bridenstine, either. With fellow Republican John McCain of Arizona absent for cancer treatment, that leaves confirmation 50-49 against….

Beyond [Acting Administrator Robert] Lightfoot, the lack of movement on Capitol Hill effectively leaves NASA leadership to Scott Pace, executive director of the National Space Council, which [Donald] Trump revived last summer. The council has taken a direct role in overseeing NASA’s priorities, including the administration’s 2017 directive to return astronauts to the moon, but doesn’t have the same hands-on role an administrator would. Bridenstine has attended both National Space Council meetings, in October and last month, but only as an observer.

Rubio has argued that the NASA post shouldn’t be occupied by a politician, particularly one with stridently partisan positions. “It’s the one federal mission which has largely been free of politics, and it’s at a critical juncture in its history,” he told Politico in September.

Bridenstine, a member of the highly conservative House Freedom Caucus, has drawn Democratic opposition for his views on gay marriage and abortion rights, as well as past statements dismissing climate change. And he may have rubbed Republican Rubio, and possibly McCain, the wrong way on account of his past support for their primary opponents.

In the 2016 presidential primaries, Bridenstine, a former Navy fighter pilot with an interest in space issues, produced several advertisements supporting Texas Senator Ted Cruz in his failed quest for the Republican nomination. Those ads criticized Rubio, also a candidate, for his position on immigration and attacks on Cruz. Rubio has reportedly denied a connection between Bridenstine’s past barbs and his opposition to the NASA nomination. Bridenstine also supported McCain’s Republican rival, Kelli Ward, in a fierce 2016 primary campaign that McCain eventually won.

Read the full story.











Sens. Cruz & Nelson Criticize Plan to End ISS Financial Support

International Space Station (Credit: NASA)

Senators express concerns over proposed cuts to the International Space Station
in letters to Director Mulvaney, Acting NASA Administrator Lightfoot

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Sens. Ted Cruz & Bill Nelson PR) – Last week, U.S. Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), the chairman of the Subcommittee on Space, Science and Competiveness, and the ranking member of the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, sent the following oversight letters to Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney and Acting NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot Jr. In the letters, the Senators expressed their concerns with the President’s FY 2019 Budget Request for NASA, which proposes ending direct U.S. Government funding for the International Space Station (ISS) by 2025.

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Bridenstine & Myers Nominations Sent on to Senate


by Douglas Messier

Managing Editor

As expected, the Senate Commerce Committee narrowly approved the Trump Administration’s nominations of Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK) and AccuWeather CEO Barry Myers to serve as the administrators of NASA and NOAA, respectively.

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What Might Happen to NASA’s Earth Science Programs Under Bridenstine?

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Imagine the following scenario: NASA’s Earth Science division gets its budget cut with key missions focused on climate change canceled.

The new NASA administrator then announces the division will be dismantled, with various programs divided among other federal departments, in order to better focus the space agency on exploration. The bulk of the programs end up at NOAA, which the NASA administrator says is a much more appropriate home for them.

NOAA, however, is already reeling from spending cuts. Struggling to perform its own forecasting duties on a reduced budget, the agency has little bandwidth to take on any additional responsibilities. And the funding allocated for the NASA programs that were just transferred over is woefully inadequate for the tasks at hand.

The result is a bureaucratic train wreck in which America’s Earth science and climate research programs gradually wither away due to mismanagement, neglect and lack of funding. The ability of the nation — and the world — to understand and address the changes the planet experiencing is greatly reduced. At some future date, another administration will have to rebuild a program in shambles that was once the envy of the world.

Sound far fetched? Think again. It could very well happen if the Trump Administration and the man it has nominated to lead NASA get what they want out of Congress.

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Bridenstine’s ASRA Bill Proposed Radical Changes in NASA’s Goals, Structure

NASA LOGORepublished from April 25, 2016

By Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

NASA would be given a mandate to pioneer the development and settlement of space and a commission dominated by Congressional appointees to oversee those efforts under a bill proposed by Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK).

The measure’s basic premise is that NASA’s problems stem from unstable presidential commitments to space exploration as opposed to Congress’ tendency to support expensive programs that bring funding into particular states and districts.

“Over the past twenty years, 27 NASA programs have been cancelled at a cost of over $20 billion to the taxpayer,” according to a statement on a website devoted to the measure. “Many of these have come as a result of changes in presidential administrations.

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Bridenstine’s Climate Change Stance Could Adversely Impact Confirmation Vote

Rep. Jim Bridenstine

Rep. Jim Bridenstine’s nomination to become the next NASA administrator has already run into trouble, with Senators Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) expressing concerns over appointing a politician to lead an agency that has enjoyed broad bipartisan support and has been mostly free of the sharp partisan divisions that have led to gridlock in Congress in recent years.

Some media reports have suggested that Rubio is angry at Bridenstine’s attacks upon him when he ran for president, a charge the Florida senator denies. Bridenstine first backed Ted Cruz’s bid, then switched to Donald Trump after Cruz dropped out of the race.

Or it could be the conservative Oklahoma Republican’s floor speeches, which include one in which he claimed President Barack Obama “dishonesty, incompetence, vengefulness and lack of moral compass lead many to suggest that he is not fit to lead.” His opinion of Vice President Joe Biden was hardly better. “The only problem is that his vice president is equally unfit and even more embarrassing,” Bridenstine said.

Did I mention Bridenstine is a strong Trump supporter? Let that sink in for a moment.

Aside from the concerns about partisanship, there is one other issue that could cause Senators to vote against Bridenstine when his nomination is considered later this year: climate change, also known as global warming.

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Cruz’s Subcommittee Holds Hearing on Outer Space Treaty

Sen. Ted Cruz

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Ted Cruz PR) – U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) today chaired the second of a series of planned hearings to explore the reopening of the American frontier in space. Today’s hearing titled ‘Reopening the American Frontier: Exploring How the Outer Space Treaty Will Impact American Commerce and Settlement in Space,’ examined the U.S. government obligations under the Outer Space Treaty on its 50th anniversary, specifically compliance with Article VI of the Treaty that requires governments to authorize and continually supervise the activities of non-government entities. This hearing also explored the Treaty’s potential impacts on expansion of our nation’s commerce and settlement in space.

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