A representative from Alabama just let the cat out of the bag with the SLS rocket


Todd May (left), then director of the Marshall Space Flight Center, introduces Vice President Mike Pence (center) to a space launch system model. Congressman Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.) Stands to the right.
Enlarge / Todd May (left), then director of the Marshall Space Flight Center, introduces Vice President Mike Pence (center) to a space launch system model. Congressman Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.) Stands to the right.

On Wednesday, NASA's administrator, Jim Bridenstine, appeared before the US Congress to discuss the president's budget request for fiscal year 2020. Bridenstine has been confronted with many questions about the Space Launch System rocket, especially representatives whose states have a large number of jobs related to the program.

The questions arose a day after Vice President Mike Pence warned the SLS rocket program of his desire to send humans to the lunar surface by 2024. "If our current subcontractors do not can not achieve this goal, we will find it ok, "said Pence. At the Parliamentary Appropriations hearing, SLS states' legislators wanted to ensure that NASA was still considering using the rocket to meet the needs of the agency.

For example, Martha Roby, a representative from Alabama, asked Bridenstine to guarantee that the SLS rocket was really a big rocket without which the agency could not do without: "Can you tell us the main reasons why SLS is the best approach for these missions and its capabilities? " provides that other alternatives can not? " she asked.

A representative from Florida wanted to ensure that his state, where the Kennedy Space Center was located, continued to receive lucrative contracts for the construction of ground launching systems. A representative from Mississippi feared that NASA's plan to accelerate the development of the SLS rocket deprives work at the Stennis Space Center, located in southern Mississippi, which must perform key firing tests. With the exception of Bridenstine, no one seemed particularly concerned about the President's goal of a human landing on the Moon in 2024.

A program of employment

But the most telling comment is perhaps that of Robert Aderholt, another Alabama representative, whose neighborhood is located near the Marshall Space Flight Center. He wanted to know about jobs.

NASA will often point out that its SLS rocket and its Orion spacecraft support aerospace suppliers. For example, the agency's website details the number of suppliers in each US state and states, "Men and women in 50 states are working hard to put in place deep space exploration systems in the US. NASA for missions to the Moon, Mars and beyond ". According to the NASA website, there are 106 suppliers in Alabama alone.

However, the agency and its congressional representatives are surprised by the suggestion that the SLS and Orion programs are actually employment programs. This is considered an insult. And in some ways, that's understandable – it's not like an army of good people is not working very hard at the agency to deliver the spaceflight assets.

Nevertheless, there is no doubt that the Congress considers these programs in terms of the jobs they perform in their districts.

But what about suppliers?

Representative Aderholt said Wednesday in a manner rarely displayed in public. "The SLS and Orion programs are, of course, essential to the health of our national aerospace supplier base, and it has really helped to give new energy boost to suppliers from all 50 states after the withdrawal of the space shuttle, "Aderholt said towards the end of the hearing.

When Congress created the SLS rocket in 2010 and 2011, it aimed to optimize the use of Space Shuttle components and involve key contractors such as Boeing, Aerojet Rocketdyne and Northrup Grumman. Aderholt then noted that the SLS rocket supported NASA's work at the Kennedy Space Center (Florida), the Marshall Space Flight Center (Alabama), the Stennis Space Center (Mississippi) and the Michoud Assemble Station (Louisiana).

"Can you talk about the importance of our national space programs, such as capabilities, supplier base, SLS innovation, Orion benefits for a wide range of users in the aerospace industry?" Aderholt asked.

Bridenstine – who is himself a former representative who left the House to become a director – called this a very good point. SLS and Orion support an industrial base that keeps America at the forefront of global spaceflight. Then, Bridenstine went further: "I can tell you that as a former congressman from Oklahoma, we have a lot of providers of these programs in Oklahoma who are performing an extremely important job. "

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