Rep. Perlmutter wants NASA to set target date for Orion mission

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Washington, DC, October 30, 2015 | comments

This content was originally published by the Denver Business Journal on October 30, 2015.

U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter wants Congress and President Barack Obama to give NASA a clear goal of landing astronauts on Mars in 2033 to crystallize support for Lockheed Martin Space Systems’ Orion space capsule and end what he considers underfunding for the locally-led spacecraft project.

The Golden Democrat is a member of the Science, Space and Technology committee in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Orion is NASA’s first spaceship designed as a deep-space vessel capable of journeys to destinations outside Earth’s orbit.

Recent scientific and budget testimony to the committee has convinced him that setting a 2033 target for an Orion mission to Mars is realistic. But he says that attaining it will require the political will from Congress, the president and NASA to establish the mission as a clear goal,

“I’m talking about a real program with a date, like Kennedy did,” Perlmutter said, referring to President John F. Kennedy’s famous 1962 vow to land a man on the moon by the end of that decade. “I don’t think we’ve had that conversation.”

Orion is NASA’s first spaceship designed as a deep-space vessel capable of journeys to destinations outside Earth’s orbit, with Mars being its eventual goal.

With the pace of NASA’s spacecraft development, Mars is best aligned for a first human landing in 2033, according to scientific testimony to the House committee.

Jefferson County-based Lockheed Martin Space Systems (LMSS) won the NASA contract in 2006 to lead the $11 billion project of designing Orion and getting to its first flight with astronauts aboard.

But Orion and its massive launch rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS), have been funded below what was projected in 2010 for this stage of their development.

U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, chairman of the House science and space committee, has criticized the Obama administration’s space budgets, which he says have delayed development of Orion and SLS. NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden has criticized Congress for crimping NASA’s budget, too.

NASA and LMSS scientists say more money would speed up Orion’s development, bringing a more fully-capable spacecraft to a launchpad sooner.

More funding would also bolster aerospace work at LMSS and its many subcontractors in Colorado, Perlmutter said. Establishing a clear Mars landing goal of 2033 would likely help Colorado’s other major aerospace employers and the aerospace and science programs at Colorado’s universities, too, Perlmutter said.

Congressional appropriations for Orion in the current federal fiscal year are $1.2 billion. Perlmutter argues funding for Orion should be $150 million more, or $1.35 billion.

More than just trying for a short-term budget bump, Perlmutter says he wants a broader federal commitment to fund a Mars mission, which he argues would win bi-partisan support and galvanize an American public that craves a lofty goal for the nation.

Perlmutter doesn’t think there’s a big risk of provoking a clear “no” in response to trying to set a clearer Mars goal for NASA, and he’s willing to take that chance to get a stronger commitment to budgeting for Orion.

“If you don’t ask, you don’t get,” he said. “If you avoid it and you just bump along, you won’t see the whole package.”

Greg Avery covers tech, telecom, aerospace, bioscience and media for the Denver Business Journal and writes for the "TechFlash" blog. Phone: 303-803-9222. 

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Tags: Aerospace

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