This most definitely is opinion. There must be some doubt about the effectiveness of Alabama Senator Richard Shelby’s legislative poison pill against new space launch providers like SpaceX and Orbital. Another attack has been launched, this time against SpaceX’s credibility of how it builds and operates its rockets. The attack comes from three Representatives (we’ll call them the “C” team), all of who have a piece of the ULA pie in their own backyards. The attack is in the form of a very confused letter to NASA’s Administrator, Charles Bolden, Jr. The focus of it is very much SpaceX, and some issues the fairly new space launch company has had with some of its rockets. These mirror Shelby’s comments, too.
Senator Shelby, who is also very fond of ULA pie and government pork, and who looks and sounds remarkably like Buford T. Justice (especially with a photoshopped pic), has been gunning for SpaceX and Elon Musk (or, the Bandit) with his “crapitalist” (thanks to John Stossel, that’s cronyism and capitalism combined) agenda. The “C” team of representatives has decided they want to play the role of Junior to Shelby’s Buford.
The team consists of Mike Coffman (Colorado Representative), Mo Brooks (Alabama Representative), and Cory Gardner (Colorado Representative). Their letter references the United States Air Force certification process and concerns about it and SpaceX–to NASA?? The “C” team say they’re concerned the USAF might be relaxing, or more in their words, weakening, their competitive certification standards. This is odd, because the USAF has implemented a rather robust certification program that has never been used before (not even for the ULA, the incumbent launch provider), and through which SpaceX is jumping hoops right now. SpaceX might be grumbling about this, but they’re still playing ball. They aren’t the only ones going through the certification process. Orbital is doing this, too.
Even more at odds with the “C” team’s letter–the GAO, SpaceX, and even the ULA hint at very strict USAF mission assurance standards for ANY government space launch. More interesting is the vice president of Aerospace Corp. (which is a primary government partner for all things mission assurance), Ray Johnson, got in the game to say Aerospace will not be changing their mission assurance methodology because mission assurance remains the same for any space launch. So maybe the representatives need to read up on this issue? Or maybe they just have no confidence in the Air Force, which is a bigger problem than they perhaps intended to point out.
There are some more oddities in this letter to NASA. All representatives who signed it agree that NASA’s certification processes and requirements standards for its space vehicles are very good. But then they run counter to NASA’s processes by asking for intimate information about SpaceX that NASA, by contract, wasn’t intended to have, making this request possibly illegal. SpaceX DID meet NASA’s requirements, otherwise its rockets wouldn’t have been certified or used, which really shows you how much confidence the “C” team has in NASA’s certification processes.
Not to downplay some of the issues SpaceX has had with their rockets. But, those issues are for SpaceX to figure out and fix. They’re doing it without extra costs to the government AND they’re still apparently meeting the NASA requirements. Is what they’re doing hair-raising to some career launch folks? Probably. But it seems to me it’s in SpaceX’s best interests to fix these problems anyway, if they want to advertise themselves as a source for reliable launch vehicles. So they probably have fixed some issues and will continue to fix others, while still meeting NASA requirements.
Everyone involved in this drama is fully aware that SpaceX is very new to this game, so of course they’re going to have teething problems. But some people are now starting to take SpaceX seriously, including the “C” team. To quote a question and answer from a different movie: “Can’t you see that’s the last act of a desperate man?” Answer: “We don’t care if it’s the first act of ‘Henry V,’ we’re leavin’.”
Things must be desperate indeed to bring in the “C” team to tackle the Bandit, Mr. Musk. The letter is an obvious attempt to retain and build up control of government money for Colorado and Alabama in space, to be dispensed on business as usual on ULA and pet projects, rather than potentially saving taxpayers billions of dollars. Which is the point of NASA’s contract with SpaceX and Orbital, and why the politicians are distressed–the money is slowly moving to the private sector, which isn’t under their control. These political fiefdoms can’t crumble fast enough.
Remember what happened to those fellas, the extra state troopers, when they partook of the chase? It didn’t go well for them. Of course, Buford and Junior didn’t do so well, either. We will see…
4 thoughts on “Croney and the Bandit (Or Why Space Needs Full Privatization)”
Great “Blazing Saddles” reference too! No one in the government likes their “almost monopoly” threatened, and that is exactly what SpaceX and the other players like Orbital and Sierra Nevada Corp are going to do. Competition improves the product of all the players, and this will be interesting to watch unfold.
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Thanks Matt! I know there will be people that disagree with this. Some will even be sincere. But NASA, for this at least, was trying to comply with other directives and is doing something new. It seems like it’s working, and that’s why folks are getting upset. Everyone was happy until it looked like other companies actually could pull off launches for less.