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April 13, 2010 03:29 AM UTC

Bennet, Udall, Ritter: Keep Constellation Flying

  • 18 Comments
  • by: Colorado Pols

As the Denver Post reports:

Colorado’s two U.S. senators today urged NASA Administrator Charles Bolden to re-evaluate the proposed cancellation of the Constellation program.

The plea by Sens. Mark Udall and Michael Bennet was delivered in a face-to-face meeting with Bolden in Washington as the National Space Symposium began here. The two also presented a letter stating their concerns for Bolden to give to President Barack Obama.

Udall described himself as “guardedly optimistic” by Bolden’s comments that he is committed to human spaceflight and to being flexible in working with Congress as the $19 billion NASA budget is debated.

Colorado could stand to lose several thousand jobs and an estimated $300 million in revenues annually if the Constellation program – which aims to return humans to the moon and beyond – is canceled as proposed by Obama in his fiscal year 2011 budget, according to a recent economic development study.

Lockheed Martin Space Systems based in south Jefferson County is the prime contractor for the Orion crew vehicle, a key Constellation component.

We’ve reprinted a similar statement from Gov. Bill Ritter today after the jump, where he says “[t]he Constellation Program, and specifically the Orion project, is a centerpiece of Colorado’s aerospace sector, creating nearly 1,000 jobs here since 2006 and inspiring a new generation of engineers, scientists, teachers and students.”

Seems like a pretty straightforward privatization vs. public investment argument (Obama’s plan replaces Constellation, at least in the near term, with commercial contracts), although we’ve met a surprising number of space science-affinitized liberals who would be fine with some privatization of manned spaceflight. We think part of their enthusiasm might be attraction to cool spaceship names private companies don’t have to run by the federal government–there’s one named “SpaceX Dragon,” if that doesn’t light your Buck Rogers fire nothing will. Notwithstanding, it would be easy to assign partisan roles to the competing sides, given which side traditionally favors the public sector versus privatization–except that Barack Obama (D) is the one who wants to privatize.

Back at the ranch, we are talking about lots of high-earning local jobs, so Udall, Bennet and Ritter have a natural interest in keeping Constellation flying. As for local Republicans, they can grouse about “waste” if there is a change of heart that preserves funding for the program, and bash Democrats for “costing Colorado jobs” (not twisting the president’s arm hard enough to oppose privatization, or something) if there isn’t–it’s kind of a win-win for them.

GOV. RITTER URGES OBAMA TO PRESERVE 1,000 AEROSPACE JOBS IN COLORADO

Gov. Bill Ritter today urged President Obama to reverse course and not cancel the Constellation space-travel program as currently proposed in NASA’s FY11 budget. The termination likely would mean the end of the Colorado-based Orion Project and the elimination of 1,000 jobs here in the Centennial State.

“The Constellation Program, and specifically the Orion project, is a centerpiece of Colorado’s aerospace sector, creating nearly 1,000 jobs here since 2006 and inspiring a new generation of engineers, scientists, teachers and students,” Gov. Ritter says in a letter to the White House. “To abruptly change direction like this will lead to significant dislocation and distress at a precarious time for the economies of our nation and our state.

“I urge you to partner with my administration and the many experts in Colorado to help chart a strategic path forward. Together, we can strengthen Colorado’s aerospace sector and meet the nation’s needs without sacrificing the jobs that are so crucial to Colorado’s economy and Colorado’s future.”

Gov. Ritter will stress the need to protect the Orion Project jobs in Colorado during a speech at the 26th National Space Symposium in Colorado Springs on Tuesday (12:30 p.m., Broadmoor Hotel, Main Ballroom, 1 Lake Ave.).

Here is the complete text of Gov. Ritter’s letter to President Obama:

April 12, 2010

President Barack Obama

The White House

1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW

Washington, D.C. 20500

Dear Mr. President,

I write to express my concerns about the job losses that will occur if the Constellation Program is cancelled as proposed by your FY 2011 NASA budget. Through your leadership with federal economic policy, and thanks to aggressive state-led initiatives here in Colorado, we are making significant progress rebounding from the worst economic crisis in over 70 years.

Terminating the Constellation Program would be a major setback to our collective progress, resulting in devastating job losses impacting dozens of Colorado companies and thousands of Colorado families.

The Constellation Program, and specifically the Orion project, is a centerpiece of Colorado’s aerospace sector, creating nearly 1,000 jobs here since 2006 and inspiring a new generation of engineers, scientists, teachers and students. Colorado consistently ranks second or third in aerospace employment, with more than 300 companies, 170,000 employees and a cluster of military installations and research institutions.

This is an industry of the future that drives innovation and economic growth, provides well-paying jobs and contributes to our national security.

A comprehensive space exploration program is critical to national security and Colorado’s economy. Our aerospace sector is well-positioned to take advantage of increased NASA investments in robotics, energy-efficiency, satellite development and space exploration technologies. With initiatives like eSpace: the Center for Space Entrepreneurship, and the 8th Continent project, Colorado has created an entrepreneurial ecosystem that supports innovative solutions to unique space exploration challenges.

While I understand the need to regularly assess and prioritize our nation’s space exploration efforts, I urge you to consider the economic impact of the termination. Colorado companies and their employees have, in good faith, worked hard with NASA to implement its plans, missions and visions. To abruptly change direction like this will lead to significant dislocation and distress at a precarious time for the economies of our nation and our state.

I urge you to partner with my administration and the many experts in Colorado to help chart a strategic path forward. Together, we can strengthen Colorado’s aerospace sector and meet the nation’s needs without sacrificing the jobs that are so crucial to Colorado’s economy and Colorado’s future.

Sincerely,

Bill Ritter, Jr.

Governor of Colorado

Comments

18 thoughts on “Bennet, Udall, Ritter: Keep Constellation Flying

  1. Let the free market take us to the final frontier. It might be the first and last time I agree with Obama, but so be it. Privatize, compete, make markets, innovate! We’ll have warp drives before you know it.

    1. Basically all the pleas above center around keeping the jobs – no real mention of what they accomplish. If unneeded projects cannot be cancelled, then we can’t redirect funds to more critical needs.

      With that said, I do feel for the people who will lose jobs when this is cancelled and that is tough in this economy. It would be good if the state would focus on helping the remaining businesses grow, which would lead to job creation.

      1. I agree with Obama on this for a somewhat different reason. I think the manned space flight is a colossal waste of money at this point in history and I think this is a pretty good first step towards focusing NASA on what it does well (unmanned space exploration) while making it politically easier to reduce the manned space budget.

        After dumping lots of money on it and finding that there isn’t a magic way to make manned space profitable without massive amounts of government money I think we humans will stop doing it unless we need a big publicity stunt.

        1. I think manned space programs are a waste of money, especially in a time of trillion dollar deficits. I support unmanned projects of an appropriate scale that are far more cost effective in furthering our knowledge of the solar system and outer space.

          This has been promoted as an economic development program.

          This is an industry of the future that drives innovation and economic growth, provides well-paying jobs and contributes to our national security.

          As stated by the Governor, nearly 1000 new jobs in the past four years? That’s 250 new jobs a year, hardly a drop in the bucket in the total scheme of things.

          If we really have to spend that money for economic development as its being billed, let’s spend it on energy efficiency and conservation technologies and renewable energy. There’s a far better payoff and tangible results that increase our national security, help the environment, and increase the quality of life right here on earth.  

          1. I think manned space flight would be a waste of money even if we were making money hand over fist and running a surplus. Space is less attractive for colonization than the bottom of the ocean or the high Andes peaks.

            It might not always be the case, but right now it is much as exploring the ocean. It can pretty much all be done better at lower cost by remotely controlled drones or semi-independent robots. I expect as robots improve in their capabilities this will only become more emphatically the case.

            I am rather confident that there will nothing more ambitious than suborbital flights for tourists before 2030 without massive governmental subsidy. If those suborbital tourist flights pan out at all. There is a chance that they’re nothing more than a lingering scheme from the irrational exuberance of the Bush Bubble.

            Rather than advocating for any one specific program with the money saved I would simply put manned spaceflight as one of the lowest spending priorities. I cannot think of anything I would put lower priority on right now, except abstinence eduction. If we wanted to do some big bold thing to ‘prove’ our self confidence and technological prowess with 5 billion a year for the next decade I suggest we could build something of practical ongoing use or a permanent monument.

  2. I appreciate that it brings jobs to Colorado, but it’s been 50 years since the Apollo program. These rockets, and their intended mission, are virtually no different than their 1960s predecessors.

    We need to be looking at changing space travel. Private entrepreneurs should be trying to do everything they can to continue space travel through space tourists, and thrill seekers.

    However, I think that the government–specifically NASA–has a better potential for continuing manned expeditions. What we need to be doing is using private entrepreneurs along with government manpower to get the mission focused on things that could actually prove useful. Going to the moon is both expensive and pointless.

    Mars, or perhaps deeper space travel, would be both a more noble and worthwhile pursuit for NASA. We just spent the last 25 years constructing the ISS, and we should be using it as a launching pad rather than the Earth.  

  3. I think Obama is on the money here… I love NASA, don’t get me wrong, but if we have around 5 companies vying for government contracts, at least the money goes back into the economy, pays for civilian jobs and you can tax space exploration. Not to mention many of those working for NASA could get a job in a new industry. So, Udall, Bennet and Ritter are just playing ridiculous politics when they need to say that while the loss of aerospace jobs is unfortunate, the beginning privatization of space exploration is the future and people shouldn’t fight that. After all, privatized space exploration will eventually lead to the 30 minute flight from LA to Tokyo in a sub orbital craft.

    1. After all, privatized space exploration will eventually lead to the 30 minute flight from LA to Tokyo in a sub orbital craft.

      Then you’ll spend the next 3 hours stuck in traffic trying to get to your hotel 😉

  4. This topic is fraught with many traps for those involved, and some spin will happen no matter what the outcome.  Having personally worked in the Office of General Counsel for a VERY large government contractor handling their environmental affairs programs with another attorney, I can tell you from those monitoring efforts that the number one priority of contractors is to make money off the government. Period. And there is plenty of duplicated efforts, time sheet padding, bad staffing, and missed deadlines to go around on most projects I saw. Just look at the abuses by contractors during the Iraq war. So, let us not jump on that bandwagon, and just assume private enterprise will be an improvement per se.

    There is no free market anymore. It is a myth. Too many tax breaks, tax suspensions, subsidy programs, and handouts to say that the market weeds the weakest and the worst out. I am not necessarily for or against this effort; too many details I don’t know. I very much would like the jobs to stay in Colorado in some fashion, and applaud the politicians in this for their efforts.  

      1. I apologize for the lack of clarity.

        I am saying that the whole notion of privatizing as a panacea for perceived government inefficiency is misplaced. And government contracting is a form of privatization, with some government agency oversight, granted. But this notion that the private sector PER SE is better by its very nature is just not borne out by the history. I am saying that one should be very careful in the mechanism one chooses to get things done IF the program matters to someone. If one doesn’t care about space exploration, then by all means, advocate for NO government funding at all, and leave it to Virgin Air.

        Inefficiencies abound in larger organizations, whether they be public or private. Weber taught us that. Maybe it is time we all revisited his works…;*)

        1. When I worked at Microsoft we complained about what a bureaucratic mess it was – yet it was easily one of the most efficient & productive large organizations ever (at that time). So you can always find problems.

          But what history also shows is that if you leave something to the free market, that almost always gives you the most productive result. You do need government involved to keep the market free, even handed, and to price in externalities.

          But pushing the effort to the private sphere – that’s how we’ll make progress. After all, NASA hasn’t accomplished squat with manned flight over the last 40 years.

          1. Perhaps that you worked in the computer industry gives you a rosy point of view…~S~. It still remains the only industry I can cite that has done what the free market is supposed to do…offer improved products to consumers at lower prices as a historical accomplishment. It is only in the field of electronics that I can comfortably put off a purchase, knowing I will get more bang for my buck later…

            I also think space travel, etc. is fine, but unless there is a profit to be had, it is very possible that if left to the private sector alone, the moon never would have been visited, or Hubbell built, etc. Sometimes you need the huge resources of government to get things done.

            Hmm..that gets me wondering. If wars were free market and only conducted for a profit, perhaps that  is the way to not having them…;*)

  5. I think Obama is right.  I think Lockheed-Martin needs to start competing on the open market for spaceflight systems.  And yes, there is now an open market for those systems and yes, the market is producing vast changes in the pricing structure of space flight.

    I don’t necessarily think that Constellation is a bad idea per se, but if Lockheed can’t keep up with the new companies in the private market and deliver a new system at new lower costs, then it deserves to lose the contract.

  6. Colorado-based pillar of the Military-Industrial Complex, Lockeed Martin, fails to earn over $3 million in local government performance incentives (presumably for non-performance).  A commission headed by former Lockheed Martin CEO, Norm Augustine finds that the Orion program is overbudget, behind schedule, and lacking in innovation, leading President Obama to start the process of shutting down this wasteful government program.

    Republican Governors from Texas and Florida send delegations to Washington to plead for continued government funding of this bloated, inefficient program in the tradition of the $40 billion (or is it $100 billion?) Space Station that never came close to fulfilling its original promise or potential.

    Ironic, don’t you think, when a Democratic President calls for more innovation and efficiencies to spur free enterprise to provide better solutions for space exploration, and Republicans cry for more socialized government spending to continue the old, tired business model of the entrenched special interests?

    Didn’t we learn enough from the “Too big to fail” mistakes on Wall Street?

    BTW, I first came to Colorado 30 years ago to work for Martin-Marietta.  The thought that somehow I might become the first software engineer in space, however remote, was in the back of my head.

    I’m all in favor of manned spaceflight … eventually.  But even the Air Force has discovered that pilotless aircraft are better/faster/cheaper (not to mention safer) than piloted aircraft such as the F-22 Raptor.

    So do we need to mine asteroids and put a waystation on the moon?  Yes.  Should we figure out how to terraform and colonize Mars, Venus or one of the moons of Jupiter? You bet.  But that is far in the distant future after we figure out better/faster propulsion systems and better technologies to protect astronauts from the dangers of longterm exposure to weightlessness and the cosmic radiation that pervades the vast expanse separating the planets in our solar system.

    Government contractors do not have a monopoly on genius – witness Burt Rutan and all his amazing innovations that are paving the way for commercial space flight.

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