NASA Educates Congress in Response to SpaceX Accident Inquiry


Following the SpaceX CRS-7 failure on June 28th, it was only a matter of time before Congress injected itself into the accident investigation efforts. If it were only a matter of being good stewards of taxpayer dollars, there would be little reason to draw attention to the issue and even less to complain. When the first inquiry letters came from representatives whose districts neatly overlapped competitors however, namely United Launch Alliance, it was not difficult to conclude that something else was at play.

Congressional interest in the issue rose to a new level however, when Chairman of the House Science Committee Lamar Smith of Texas (R), sent a letter to NASA Administrator Charles Bolden on August 4 alleging unfair treatment in how recent launch failures suffered by SpaceX and Orbital ATK were being handled differently by the space agency, stating in part.

“The discrepancy between the approaches taken by NASA in response to these two similar events raises questions about not only the equity and fairness of NASA’s process for initiating independent accident investigations, but also the fidelity of the investigations themselves.”

In his response, Bolden advises Smith that basically the entire premise of his letter is misplaced. In short,  NASA is conducting independent reviews of both accidents, but they are taking different forms due to the vastly different impacts the two vehicles have on the landscape. Orbital ATK is offering Antares only through the CRS program, whereas the SpaceX Falcon 9 is an approved vehicle under contract to NASA’s Launch Services Program with two contracted launches in process, as well as being one of two vehicles tapped to launch astronauts under Commercial Crew. Consequently, LSP is providing an independent review of the SpaceX accident investigation as per program guidelines.

The full response (pdf), which begins by pointing out that the Astronaut Safety Advisory Panel issued a similar statement the day before Smith’s letter, is a pleasure to read for anyone grown tired of the intellectual laziness and moralistic attitude Congress so frequently adopts when addressing issues which it is either unwilling or unable to understand. In this case, a simple phone call might have sufficed.


Posted in: Congress, SpaceX

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