Main Engine Cut Off

House Draft NASA Authorization Bill is the Greatest Hits of Terrible, Dead-End Space Policy

I usually don’t give draft appropriations or authorization bills much focus here or on the podcast, though I do keep track of them to see where the Congressional mindset is on space policy. But the draft NASA authorization bill that the House Science Committee released last week is worth mentioning, because it is utterly atrocious policy making.

It contains a dizzying jumble of misaligned priorities that don’t fit together in any sensible way.

It gives the thumbs up to lunar landings beginning in 2028, with two per year thereafter, all in service of—I shit you not—a 2033 mission to orbit Mars.

It rules out a lunar base, any research into in-situ resource utilization (ISRU) on the lunar surface, and indicates that they would like to see the Gateway relocated somewhere else in cislunar space rather than the near-rectilinear halo orbit it’s destined for currently (which arguably could be the only slightly-laudable part of this junk).

And because the above wasn’t prescriptive enough, it would direct NASA to build and own a lander system that would be integrated with SLS and the Exploration Upper Stage—you know, the kind Boeing is touting. Oh, and NASA would have to use cost-plus contracting for the lander, rather than public-private partnerships with fixed-price contracts.

So a target date two-to-three presidential elections away, a nonsensical roadmap, major restrictions on ISRU and other research that would be indescribably valuable to any exploration program, prescriptive architectural decisions on launch and landing vehicles that favor Boeing up and down the whole stack, and explicit rules on contracting methods for all of the above.

Playing every single one of the hits from the last 3 decades of flawed, dead-end space policy.