Former NASA Johnson Space Center (JSC) Director Chris Kraft doesn’t mince words in an April 20 op-ed in the Houston Chronicle about the Space Launch System (SLS) heavy-lift rocket the U.S. space agency has been directed by Congress to build.
“SLS is killing JSC. SLS is killing Texas jobs. SLS is killing our national space agenda,” Kraft and former NASA space station program manager Tom Moser assert.
NASA will spend about $1.5 billion this year on an SLS development effort that won’t yield its first test flight until 2017.The first crewed flight is targeted for 2021.The Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle, the JSC-led space capsule that will launch atop SLS, is funded at $1.2 billion this year. As for the other hardware NASA will need to conduct human exploration mission’s beyond Earth orbit, it’s not currently in the budget.
As Kraft and Moser put it:
“The SLS-based strategy is unaffordable, by definition, since the costs of developing, let alone operating, the SLS within a fixed or declining budget has crowded out funding for critical elements needed for any real deep space human exploration program. Most of these critical elements would be managed by JSC. They include the crewed lunar lander, a multi-mission space exploration vehicle (MMSEV), a deep space habitat, a lunar surface rover and other lunar infrastructure. The development of these critical elements has been delayed until the mid-2020s and the 2030s, so real human exploration beyond Earth will not begin until the late 2020s or 2030s.”
Kraft and Moser aren’t just worried about a downsized JSC Mission Control team twiddling its collective thumbs; they are also worried about JSC’s other core competencies: engineering and development.
“With [the international space station] complete, with no significant funding for the deep space habitat or MMSEV, and with the cancellation of the crewed lunar lander and other lunar surface systems, there is minimal development work for JSC’s engineering teams,” the pair wrote. “They are now limited to helping complete the half-finished Orion and supporting [Kennedy Space Center] on commercial crew.”
Kraft and Moser argue that the United States should stop “wasting billions of dollars per year on SLS” when there are cheaper, nearer-term approaches that rely on existing launch vehicles.
“A multicenter NASA team has completed a study on how we can return humans to the surface of the moon in the next decade with existing launch vehicles and within the existing budget. This NASA plan, which NASA leadership is trying to hide, would save JSC and create thousands of jobs in Texas,” Kraft and Moser insist. “It is time for Texas’ elected members of Congress to wake up and do something about it before it is too late.”
Interestingly, what’s not noted in the commentary is the fact that one of SLS’s biggest champions in Congress is Texas Republican Kay Bailey Hutchison.