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Thursday, July 28, 2005

Space Leadership?

NASA is in District 22 as well as most of Clear Lake where the astronauts live. I'm a pilot and have closely followed NASA since I was a kid attending a soapbox derby when Neil Armstrong first landed on the moon.

The Shuttle is almost 25 years old - it first took off in 1981, three years before Mr. DeLay was elected. It is supposed to continue flying until 2010 when it would be almost 30! It runs on 1970's technology for the most part.

So here is my question. If NASA and its people are part of your district, and you are the "most powerful" Congressman from the majority party, then why are our astronauts being sent up into space in 25-year old shuttles? How many of you are driving 1981 cars?

My idea of leadership is planning ahead. Had I been Congressman the last 21 years I would have pushed for a second generation shuttle decades ago.

I recently wrote an article that said we should ground the present fleet and focus on rolling out a replacement vehicle before 2010. No one listened. Discovery barely missed another hit by falling debris that could have doomed the crew - and this is after 2 1/2 years of trying to fix 30 year old technology.

Remember the old bible saying that says "Don't put new wine in old wineskins"? Why? Because the old skins would break. Trying to fix an old vehicle to soar into space is the same.

This is not NASA's fault. For years Congress has starved NASA of the funds needed to develop a new vehicle and continue its other exploration activities. It is a failure of Congressional leadership.

That failure has cost dearly. It has cost us time and billions in trying to make the old technology work after three decades of use. NASA spent over $1.5 billion trying to fix the fuel tank that, despite the work, shed a potentially deadly piece of foam that would have doomed Discovery if it had hit the wing like the one that hit Columbia. We'd have astronauts stranded at the space station --and Atlantis would have been grounded and unable to launch a rescue mission. What then?

This is the 21st Century. We need a new generation shuttle flying long before 2010. We need new leadership that would have insisted on it long ago.

In the meantime, I say that we park the shuttles at the Smithsonian and let NASA focus 100% on returning to space with 21st Century technology. I am not willing to ask another astronaut crew to risk their lives on 1970's technology....

If they fly the old shuttle again, I think the Majority leader who let this happen should be on it. If it's good enough for astronauts, it's good enough for him to risk his life in it also.

And while DeLay is riding the old Shuttle, I suggest that we enlist private industry and Burt Rutan, who built SpaceShipOne which successfully took a man to the edge of space, twice. I say we give Mr. Rutan up to $1 billion --less than that that spent by NASA trying to modify the Shuttle fuel tank--to produce an orbital vehicle that will go to the Space Station and beyond. What have we got to lose?

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