Congress Wants GAO Review of Commercial Resupply, Air Force Review of SpaceX

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Following a polite, but factual slap-down by NASA in its response to Congressional inquiries into whether or not SpaceX has received preferential treatment in how an accident review board is being managed, one might have that though the issue was out to rest. As Lee Corso will most assuredly say on ESPN every Saturday morning for the next four months, “No So Fast My Friend!”

The first week of September has seen not one, but two more letters issued from elected representatives who have ostensibly been visiting with concerned constituents since they left Washington on August 10th for a month long recess. And, as it turns out, the heightened interest again comes from districts and states which happen to have a strong United Launch Alliance or Lockheed Martin presence.

On September 1st, Senators Dave Vitter (R) La. and Cory Gardner (R) Co. sent a letter to the Government Accountability Office asking for a “full review” of NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services program following accidents suffered by both Orbital Sciences and SpaceX within the last year. Among the requested information necessary to “protect the American taxpayer from commercial suppliers’ failures” are a detailed list of what will be supplied in the future, at what date, and the remaining cargo in kilograms.

While NASA is getting those figures together, it can at least bask in the qualified praise offered by Colorado Congressman Mike Coffman (R), who in a press release said he was pleased that the space agency was conducting an “independent review” of the SpaceX  June 28th failure, even as he complained that the Air Force is not conducting a separate review.

“While NASA has clearly engaged in the investigation on the SpaceX failure, if perhaps not to the extent expected, the US Air Force has declined to assume any independent role in the investigation of the SpaceX failure.”

In the release, Coffman appears to suggest NASA initiated its role in the SpaceX investigation in response to a July 30th letter signed by 19 member of Congress of which he was one.

“I am pleased that NASA has decided (emphasis added) to conduct an independent review.  It is the only way to validate the results of an investigation performed by the company that built the rocket in the first place.”

Somewhat ironically, the two letters, both of which express entirely justifiable concerns regarding good stewardship of taxpayer dollars, comes during the same week NASA has suffered a major failure aboard the recently launched $915 million dollar Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) observatory, where one of two key instruments has been written off. According to the NASA press release “On July 7th, SMAP’s radar stopped transmitting due to an anomaly involving the radar’s high-power amplifier (HPA). The HPA is designed to boost the power level of the radar’s pulse to more than 500 watts, ensuring the energy scattered from Earth’s surface can be accurately measured.”

While NASA is emphasizing the fact that SMAP’s remaining, lower resolution instrument is still operational, the nearly billion dollar mission will not be able to meet even its minimum scientific objectives.

Whether or not the same members of Congress will be just as interested in a NASA failure which does not involve SpaceX remains to be seen, but don’t hold your breath.

Posted in: Congress, SpaceX

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