Sequestration Cuts to NASA's Commercial Crew Program Causes Concern

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NASA's plan for dealing with sequestration, which includes essentially placing the Commercial Crew program into mothballs, has created some concern among commercial space advocates who believe that is the wrong area to cut.

Interruption in funding could delay commercial spacecraft

Florida Today raises the possibility that even temporary interruption in the Commercial Crew program funding would significantly delay the advent of commercially operated spacecraft beyond 2017, prolonging the period in which NASA is dependent on the Russians for rides on Soyuz spacecraft. The article suggests cutting smaller amounts from larger programs, such as the Space Launch System and the James Webb Telescope, as well as looking at programs such as education that are deemed not to be central to the space agency's central mission.

Space Launch System to be spared major cuts

AL.com notes that the Space Launch System, the heavy lift rocket envisioned by NASA as the launch vehicle to take astronauts beyond low Earth orbit, is to be sparred cuts under sequestration. NASA is keen to adhere to the 2017 date for the first test launch of the SLS, something which even temporary budget cuts might place in jeopardy. This means, however, a number of other contracts are being placed on hold to accommodate the SLS' test schedule. The Space Launch System, along with the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle, is considered one of the top three priorities of NASA, along with the James Webb Space Telescope and the International Space Station.

NASA's Charles Bolden places the blame on Congress

According to the Space Politics blog, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, who had previously expressed a lack of concern over whether sequestration would happen, is now very concerned. He suggested that sequestration means that the so-called "space flight gap," the period of time between the end of the space shuttle program and the beginning of commercial spacecraft, is certain to expand. Following the administration line, Bolden placed the blame for this state of affairs on Congress.

Meanwhile, Commercial Crew proceeds apace for cargo flights

Despite the threat of sequestration, the cargo portion of the Commercial Crew program is proceeding apace. NASASpaceFlight.com reports that the third flight of the SpaceX Dragon, carrying cargo to the International Space Station is scheduled to launch on March 1. NASASpaceFlight.com also reports that the other cargo carrying launch vehicle, Orbital Sciences' Antares, has successfully test fired its engines. Antares will launch on a test flight in March or early April. If that flight is successful, Antares with launch a Cygnus cargo ship to the International Space Station in a demonstration flight later in 2013.

Mark R. Whittington is the author of Children of Apollo and The Last Moonwalker. He has written on space subjects for a variety of periodicals, including The Houston Chronicle, The Washington Post, USA Today, the L.A. Times, and The Weekly Standard.

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