As the head of Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne, the leading U.S. provider of liquid-rocket propulsion, Jim Maser would be expected to have a strong opinion about the path NASA pursues to replace the space shuttle fleet that has been a cornerstone of the company’s business for decades.
But where Maser has stood apart from other aerospace industry executives is in his willingness to say in public what many of his peers will only say in private.
Maser has been out front for more than a year urging NASA to decide — and decide soon — on its post-shuttle space transportation architecture.
“If it were up to us, we would pick an architecture today or in the near future, and evolve it with block upgrades as we mature the technology,” Maser told Space News in the wake of U.S. President Barack Obama’s April 15, 2010, announcement that NASA would wait until 2015 to select a heavy-lift launcher design.
Congress — after hearing publicly from Maser and privately from other U.S. aerospace concerns — ultimately rejected the Obama administration’s five-year timeline for making a decision, enacting a NASA authorization bill last October that directs the U.S. space agency to make an immediate start on a shuttle-derived heavy-lifter that can be ready to fly by 2016. The prescribed rocket, called the Space Launch System, incorporates two Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne products — the RS-25 space shuttle main engines and the Apollo-heritage J-2X liquid-fueled upper stage.
Maser, meanwhile, has kept up the pressure, testifying before a congressional committee this past spring that the lack of consensus between the White House and Capitol Hill on the heavy-lift issue has thrust the space industrial base into a crisis that could have been avoided. “We are losing a national, perishable asset, our unique work force,” he said.