From: Rep. Dave Weldon
Posted: Friday, March 7, 2008
WASHINGTON, D.C. - As the point of no return has been approaching for termination of the space shuttle program, Rep. Dave Weldon has been trumpeting concern and drawing attention to the Bush Administration's disastrous decision to leave America without direct human access to space for years. Finally, there is a growing chorus of officials joining Weldon's foresight.
In today's Washington Post, a front-page article entitled, "NASA Wary of Relying on Russia: Moscow Soon to Be Lone Carrier of Astronauts to the Space Station," echoes the perspective that Weldon has been voicing for many months now.
"For five years or more, the United States will be dependent on the technology of others to reach the (international space) station, which American taxpayers largely paid for. To complicate things further, the only nation now capable of flying astronauts to the space station is Russia, giving it a strong bargaining position to decide what it wants to charge for the flights at a time when U.S. - Russian relations are becoming increasing testy," the story says. "Given Russia's recent track record, it is also likely that Russia will use this advantage to extort geopolitical concessions from the United States government; concessions that will remain hidden from public view."
Adding to the list of concerned voices, NASA Administrator Mike Griffin recently admitted that the issue puts the United States in a strategically dangerous position and that it is his "greatest regret and concern" that America will be essentially shut out of space for a period of at least five years. This "space gap" is the period that will extend from the retirement of the space Shuttle program in 2010 until 2015, at the earliest, when the next manned program, Orion will launch.
Griffin added, "We will be largely dependent on the Russians, and that is a terrible place for the United States to be. I'm worried, and many others are worried."
They should be. While Rep. Weldon has been consistently trumpeting the danger of the Administration's position to leave the U.S. at a tremendous technological, scientific, and military disadvantage, others have sat by and watched, even making statements that make one wonder if they really understood what was at stake.
"This is one the biggest strategic blunders I've seen. While I have supported the Administration on many decisions, this is one of it's worst. Leaving America without access to space for 5 years or more, they have essentially ceded the 'ultimate high ground' to the Russians and Chinese, who have not exactly been our closest allies. We must change course immediately. We can't sit back, make apologies, and hope for the best."
Weldon has taken the lead role in urging Congress to close the space gap from both ends by addition funding to (1) extend the Shuttle program on a limited basis to resupply the ISS and (2) bring the Constellation program on line sooner.
"Flying manned space missions is a calculated risk, but so is leaving our nation's 'space flank' exposed. NASA has and does go to extreme lengths to ensure the highest level of safety, and that effort can continue past 2010, for a few extra Shuttle launches," added Weldon.
The SPACE Act, H.R. 4837, authored by Weldon authorizes additional funding to help deliver Orion earlier than the currently planned 2015 date.
As the Washington Post article suggests, the risk is that "the price will be paid not only in billions of dollars, but also in lost American prestige and lost leverage on the Russians when it comes to issues such as aiding Iran with its nuclear program."
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