Space

3 GOP Congressmen Are Whining About SpaceX to NASA. Want to Guess Why?

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SpaceX

Why would three seemingly random congressmen suddenly taken an interest in relatively minor delays in SpaceX's otherwise wildly successful push to provide launch services?

Well, here's our story so far, as ably chronicled in Slate:

Three House members—Mike Coffman (R-Colo.), Mo Brooks (R-Ala.), and Cory Gardner (R-Colo.)—have sent a memo to NASA demanding that the agency investigate what they call "an epidemic of anomalies" with SpaceX missions.

This is ridiculous for many reasons. For example, the congressmen say that SpaceX should be accountable to the American taxpayer, but in fact as a contractor the rules are different for them than they would be if NASA themselves built the rockets, just as the rules are for Boeing or any other contractor. In fact, as reported bySpace News, NASA didn't actually pay for the development of the Falcon 9; Elon Musk did.

Another reason this is silly is that every rocket ever made has undergone problems; they are fiendishly complex machines and no design has ever gotten from the drafting board to the launch pad without issues. Sure, SpaceX has experienced launch delays and other problems, but the critical thing to remember is that those problems are noted, assessed, and fixed … sometimes within hours or minutes. I remember a LIDAR issue in 2012 that prevented a SpaceX Dragon capsule from berthing to the ISS; the issue was examined and fixed so rapidly I was stunned. "Anomalies" are inevitable; what's important is if the lessons were learned, and the mission was successful. If SpaceX were suffering more than the usual number of problems that would be worth investigating, but that's not the case here.

So what could those congressmen—along with Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.)—have in common? Hmmm. Oh right: Porky deals in their states or districts with the big legacy government contractors who are threatened by SpaceX's success. 

I'll note that Boeing (the major SLS contractor) has a big plant in Alabama, Brooks' (and Shelby's) home state, and United Launch Alliance has its HQ in Colorado, home to Gardner and Coffman (it's even in Coffman's district). This sounds more like they're trying to protect their own turf more than honestly wanting transparency from SpaceX.

This is just the latest in a long line of WTF Republicans moments, where the supposed party of free enterprise has repeatedly moved to squelch, redirect, or otherwise discourage moves to allow private competition into the top heavy, state-dominated space sector. In recent month, Congress has tried to saddle SpaceX with extra costs and more paperworkWhen it comes to space, House Republicans still prefer big governmentspace pork, and crony capitalism.

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  1. So, congressthings from Alabama (where Huntsville – nicknamed “Rocket City” – is located) have a problem. Hmm…

  2. As I said in the PM Links, SpaceX is backed by one Elon Musk- of Tesla and Solar City fame. All of these companies depend heavily if not solely on subsidies, loans and other perks provided by the Government. While SpaceX’s model as a Private Launch Entity is marginally better than Boeing or the Launch Alliance’s arrangements as more of a government contractor, it is so small a distinction as to hardly matter.

    Don’t mistake this for some David vs Goliath. This is Old School Government Chrony A vs New School Hip Techie Crony B.

    1. Also, this statement from Salon is not true:
      “In fact, as reported bySpace News, NASA didn’t actually pay for the development of the Falcon 9; Elon Musk did.”

      If you actually read that article, it says that it WAS supported by NASA, just in a different way than standard contracts. A simple look at Wikipedia also confirms that:

      “While SpaceX spent its own money to develop the previous launcher, Falcon 1, the development of the Falcon 9 was aided by the purchase of several demonstration flights by NASA. “

      1. Tesla has yet to make a single penny in profit that is NOT from trading government ‘pollution certs’. Not one penny.

        1. Where’s weapon when you need a Musk apologist? He’s been spewing in a lot of other places recently. I really get a kick out of his shilling for grid storage. Numbers and P&L aren’t really his thing.

      2. The distinction here is that the contract with Space-X was ‘fixed-cost’, meaning that the customer would pay the quoted cost and if there were over-runs the contractor (Space-X) would eat them (and if they could meet standards cheaper they would pocket the difference).

        Fixed cost contracts with the government legally require far less accounting oversight than ‘cost-plus’, which is the contractor favorite, which has far more room for overcharging.

        1. Musk has actually done a pretty good job with SpaceX, but I can’t forgive him for all of the other cronyism. And even though he has or will deliver a cost efficient launch system compared to more government controlled efforts, he’s still making most of his bank from the taxpayers.

        2. I think this is a bit of pollyanish thinking. First, I give credit to Musk for keeping his budgets. But do you think for one minute that if a Falcon rocket had a serious problem, NASA wouldn’t find it within itself to pay for one or two additional launches just for safety’s sake? If so I have some property in Brooklyn to talk about.

  3. It’s true. SpaceX does get to get away with a lot of shit that other NASA contractors cannot get away with.

    However, the solution to that problem is not to burden SpaceX with the same bullshit that Boeing has to deal with, but to reduce the overall bullshit burden on Boeing and other contractors to the same level that SpaceX gets.

    Of course, the problem with that is that then there would be thousands of extraneous employees whose jobs used to be to deal with all the stupid NASA bullshit that they had to deal with. And now, those people will be out of a job. And nobody wants to “kill jobs”. Especially not in their district.

    Really all they need is to get the Congressman from Hawthorne, CA on board with the extra paperwork requirements to help create more jobs in SoCal. More bullshit means more jobs to people to handle all the bullshit.

    This is a big reason why we should never abolish any federal regulations or make them less complex. The more complicated and burdensome you make the system the more jobs for people to deal with all the buillshit it creates.

    1. Its not really even that Space-X uniquely can get away with this. Boeing could too, but they choose not to take the risk of tendering fixed-cost contracts.

  4. “The supposed party of free enterprise has repeatedly moved to squelch, redirect, or otherwise discourage moves to allow private competition”

    I can think of two administrations that authentically supported free enterprise: Calvin Coolidge and Grover Cleveland. One was Republican, the other was Democrat.

    Let’s face it, the modern Republican Party is the “free market” party only by comparison with the Democrats, and only because the Democrats don’t even pay lip service to the idea.

    1. I’m sure Sheldon Richman will point out in the 19th Century the Republicans were the mercantilist party and the Democrats were the free-trade liberal party though there were slavery and race issues as well.

      The Democrats haven’t been a free-market party since about 1896 and this made the Republicans the default “free market” party since then, especially after the New Deal. And yes the only real free market Republicans have been Harding and Coolidge.

      1. Leaving aside the important exception of free trade, which went through a long period with no champion in DC.

  5. It is called free enterprise and capitalism, not pork and not cronyism.

  6. Imagine the ratings C-Span would from the floor debate between those three this guy:

    http://colonizespace.blogspot.com/

    God, please let him win this election cycle.

  7. This is just the latest in a long line of WTF Republicans moments, where the supposed party of free enterprise

    At some point, say in the 1980s, when it becomes obvious that, for Republicans, free enterprise was at best a slogan and in practice a euphemism for rampant plutocratic looting, one might stop being surprised by such things.

    1. It’s kind of like the point where the Dems decided to claim they were for the poor and minorities while proposing initiatives that wouldn’t actually, ya know, help poor or minorities.

  8. There is a dude that knows what time it is.

    http://www.AnonWays.tk

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