Space Pains

by Daniel Russ on June 29, 2010

ISS

In the political battle over the nation’s space program, the first casualties are people like Donny Smith, an engineer who received his layoff notice Monday.

“I’ve been preparing, trying to find something else to move to,” said Mr. Smith, who works for Bastion Technologies, one of the companies NASA has hired to help design rockets to return astronauts to the moon as part of its Constellation program.

Workers at Bastion and elsewhere are caught in a growing conflict between Congress, which has banned NASA from canceling any part of Constellation, and agency leaders who have directed program managers to scale back their work while preserving the parts that would fit into the new space policy proposed by President Obama.

The administration wants to turn to commercial companies for taking future astronauts to orbit while taking a hiatus from any ambitious missions to send astronauts beyond low-Earth orbit. Yet Congress has not agreed to the scuttling of Constellation and added a clause in this year’s federal budget that prohibited NASA from canceling the program or starting a new one without Congressional assent.

The skirmishing continued in earnest this week. Staff members on the House Committee on Science and Technology are reviewing documents that NASA sent over Friday evening to comply with the committee’s demand for information used in formulating the president’s proposal. In addition, on Tuesday, 62 House members signed a letter sent to President Obama “to express concern” over the direction of NASA.

“It is in the nation’s best interest to leverage the investments made in Constellation over the last five years, into a beyond low-Earth orbit exploration program, today,” said the letter writers, which included representatives of both political parties from states far beyond Texas, Alabama and Florida, which are home to the major NASA centers.

The basis for the latest Constellation upheaval is a clause in the contracts of Lockheed Martin, Alliant Techsystems Inc. and Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne, which states that the companies are responsible for setting aside contract money to pay for termination costs if the Constellation program were canceled.”

Source: NYT

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