Prior to the U.S. Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee ‘s approval of a NASA authorization bill directing the agency to build a heavy-lift rocket and a crew capsule capable of reaching the international space station by 2016, NASA Administrator Charles and his deputy Lori privately warned the bill’s chief architects that NASA couldn’t finish the proposed rocket sooner than 2020, the Orlando Sentinel reported July 22.
The paper attributes its account to three sources present at recent meetings Bolden and Garver had with Sens. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) and Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas).
The Senate bill recommends giving NASA $11 billion over the next three years to get started on the new space vehicles.
“When asked about the conversation, Nelson spokesman Dan McLaughlin said the NASA officials were responding to lower dollar figures than what Congress ultimately approved. NASA spokesman Michael Cabbage said it ‘would not be appropriate to discuss private conversations between NASA and members of Congress.’
“But requiring the rapid construction of a new spacecraft was critical in securing widespread political support — even if the bill’s supporters knew it would be an uphill climb for an agency with a reputation for busting budgets and deadlines.
“‘Getting to this point required so much hard work and many trade-offs’ said Hutchison when the compromise was unveiled last week. The new launch system, she added, would ‘challenge the best minds at NASA to develop a system on an aggressive schedule.’
“Under the compromise, NASA must build a rocket that could lift payloads of at least 70 tons, including astronauts, to the station, which orbits about 200 miles above Earth. It also must be designed so it could evolve into a bigger rocket with a lifting capacity of 130 tons or more that could eventually attempt missions beyond low Earth orbit, such as trips to nearby asteroids.
“As an added requirement, NASA engineers must do all they can to incorporate pieces of both the shuttle, due to retire next year, and the now-defunct Constellation program. And in a nod to Utah legislators — who represent the solid rocket motor company— the bill all but requires NASA to continue testing solid rocket motors, even if they are not guaranteed a place in the spacecraft’s final design.
“With so many conditions, experts have raised doubts about the project’s viability.”