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



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.