The Zombie Rocket Which Cannot Die: Bolden Says SLS/Orion “Protected” From Next President

The Zombie Rocket Credit: NASA

The Zombie Rocket
Credit: NASA

And so it has come to this.


NASA administrator says Space Launch System ‘protected’ against next president

“The Space Launch System (SLS) being developed by NASA in Alabama is “a protected program” the next president won’t be able to cancel, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden Jr. said Friday in Huntsville.

“It’s a protected program because the Congress – you know in our system of government, the president proposes and the Congress disposes,” Bolden said. He noted that Congress “roundly opposed” terminating the Constellation program, SLS’s predecessor, when President Obama ended its funding in 2010.”…” Congress didn’t agree with America having no big space rocket and forced the White House to accept the Space Launch System in exchange for funding President Obama’s personal priority: developing commercial space companies like SpaceX to carry cargo and eventually astronauts to the International Space Station.

Many aerospace workers were rehired to design and build SLS, and Congress has kept money flowing to it. Bolden’s point was that Congress is committed to the big rocket and will continue funding it regardless of who wins in November and that person’s position on SLS.”

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Given that this story, which is refreshing in its brazen honesty if for no other reason, revolves around the role certain elected representatives have played in “protecting” their patronage, readers unfamiliar with local Alabama politics, but used to seeing their results expressed in ways such as this piece, not to mention Senator Shelby’s unwavering devotion to Russian rocket engines, might relish the deeper insight into the political culture which comes from grokking the following facts:

Alabama’s current Governor, Robert Bentley will spend the summer fighting impeachment proceedings for a host of transgressions.

Alabama’s Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mike Hubbard, is currently standing trial for 23 felony charges.

The Chief Justice of Alabama’s Supreme Court, Roy Moore, is currently suspended while awaiting proceedings which would see him removed from that office for the second time.

The first Republican governor since Reconstruction, Guy Hunt, was forced to resign from office in 1993 following conviction on ethics violations, and the man who followed him, Don Siegelman, a Democrat, is presently serving time as well.

On a more local level, the former mayor of Birmingham, what is for now still the State’s largest city, Larry Langford is also in the big house, doing time for a bond swap controversy which saw six former Jefferson County Commissioners and 15 other officials charged with corruption.

As a thank you to the American taxpayer, in 2011, Jefferson County hosted the largest municipal bankruptcy in American history, a figure which has only been eclipsed by that of Detroit.

And just for fun, since you simply cannot discuss Alabama without referencing football: Tide Football Star’s Financial Advisor Sent to Prison.

Maybe we really do get the government, and the rocket, we deserve.

Posted in: SLS / Orion

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11 Comments on "The Zombie Rocket Which Cannot Die: Bolden Says SLS/Orion “Protected” From Next President"

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  1. Congress has been in strong support of building a super heavy lift vehicle since 2005.

    China and Russia also intend to build super heavy lift vehicles.

    And even Space X wants to build a super heavy lift vehicle for its Mars program.

    So the only real surprise is that some people are surprised that there is a lot of support out there for the development of supper heavy lift vehicles:-)


    • Nestos says:

      Russia is not developing a super heavy lift rocket and both SpaceX and China have plans for their rockets, which congress don’t.

  2. I suspect that if you said “SLS” to 90-95% of the members of Congress, they would show blank stares. They would also be nonplussed to be told they are protecting it. The NASA budget is something they leave to the relevant committees and assume the right things are being done. Keeping that 90% in the dark on the SLS boondoggle is key to maintaining its support by Congress.

    It will be quite difficult to enlighten them. Support from the Mike Griffin types in the space community make SLS/Orion vs alternatives an inside-baseball technical issue that both Congresspersons and most science/tech reporters don’t want to wade into.

    Furthermore, as with much of the public, most in Congress and the press take the Apollo model for granted and expect NASA to build and operate a big rocket. The fact that SLS is hyper-expensive is no surprise to them either because they also take for granted that everything NASA does, and everything about space for that matter, must be hyper-expensive.

    Nevertheless, there are scenarios where this could change. If the Falcon Heavy flies successfully, that will bring press and public attention to the stark contrast between its cost and that of the SLS. With Mikulski out and perhaps a change in Senate control, Shelby’s power to dictate NASA budget details may be greatly reduced. In such a situation, if the next President did decide to cut the SLS, I think the putative iron support for it would collapse fairly quickly.

    • Stewart Money says:


      I think your analysis is right on the money. The one other thing which is changing, as I noted earlier this week, is the broader audience which is being exposed to counter arguments like Eric Berger’s ongoing hit pieces in Ars Technica. Losing Buzz this week did not help either.

      • Yep, Eric is doing a great job. I’ve started to see some other web news sites and commentators pick up his SLS stories. Hope his reports continue to get the word out.

        One big problem is the lack of a clear, coherent, well laid out plan that Berger and others can examine and publicize as a viable alternative to SLS/Orion. A big failure of Lori et al in the 2010 roll out of Obama’s NASA program was not presenting an approach with multiple commercial launch providers, fuel depots, and in-orbit assembly as the way to do far more than SLS and at far less cost. Instead, all this got swept into the technology development bin. Occasionally in hearings, Rohrbacher would mention fuel depots but there was never a plan put forward. It would be really useful if a coalition of groups and space notables put forward such a plan.

        Flights of the FH are necessary but insufficient to bring down the SLS. Other factors – greater awareness of the SLS waste, changes in Congressional committees, a clear alternative plan, and a new President wanting to cut it – have to come together to make it happen. It’s a long shot but crazier things have happened in DC…

  3. Michael says:

    Alabama Politics – hilarious. Bolden‘s assertion – nonsense. The only certainty in the world of politics and money is corruption. SLS is a self-evident example of the club of thieves – aka the military-industrial complex – feeding themsleves, gorging on the treasurers of a bottomless buget.

    Where the intrigue is in this changing scene being literally engineered by Musk, is how the established power players in the game of wealth generation through launching rockets react to the threat of SpaceX. None of the players can meet the challenge of SpaceX in the immediate future. When the Falcon heavy is launched, NASA will join the list under challenge by the excellence and economy of SpaceX. If Musk fulfills his intention to launch a Dragon to Mars in 2018, NASA will been seen for what is – a waste of money.

    Will Musk suddenly find himself in a financially and politically distracting situation that slowly chokes SpaceX, crushing its capacity to function. Politically, Musking is playing both sides of politics with donations to both political parties. But those well established companies having been playing this game for much longer. Technically, SpaceX is untouchable. Politically, it is vulnerable. Alabama politics demonstrates that corruption is rampant in the halls of power. Big boys play for real – especially when billions of dollars are at stake.

  4. Art says:

    NASA isn’t a waste of money. To many of the legacy aerospace companies, the only way to build something is by using huge amounts of federal dollars. And many congressional districts makes sure that those dollars are flowing. 1/2 of 1% isn’t really that much compared to the total federal budget. So, in theory SLS/Orion is actually saving money compared to many of the DOD programs. SLS/Orion will be around to stay, even at 1 or 2 launches per year initially. All other supporting launches for BEO will be done with the commercial launchers, ie…supplies,etc…

  5. Actually, NASA’s biggest waste is the ISS program which is currently being used as a $3 billion a year tax payer subsidy for the commercial launch industry and the Russian launch industry.

    The ISS program was originally supposed to end in 2015 so that those funds could be used for NASA’s beyond LEO efforts. But now it looks like nothing will ever stop the continuation of NASA’s hyper expensive ISS program and its perpetual mission (over 40 years now) to LEO!


    • Nestos says:

      How could a $3 billion a year ISS program be “NASA’s biggest waste” while SLS-Orion did get $ 3.45 billion this year? Can you explain the math?

      • Actually, I’m not a supporter of the Orion program. I’m a strong supporter of the SLS program.

        Orion funds, IMO, would have been better spent funding the development of a reusable single staged extraterrestrial landing vehicle.

        Plus it doesn’t make much sense to have an Orion crew program and a Commercial Crew program, IMO.

        As far as the ISS and Commercial Crew program is concerned, it would cost the tax payers substantially less money to send NASA astronauts to private space stations rather than to a hyper expensive space laboratory (ISS) not even completely owned by the American people.


        • Nestos says:

          You’re a supporter of a costly rocket based on 50 years old technologies?
          This launcher will be obsolete before its second flight, assuming it’s no already obsolete…

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