Today, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) continued his criticism of NASA's new design for deep space exploration by sending a letter to former NASA's Administrator Dr. Michael D. Griffin asking him to join Rohrabacher's call for NASA to release their recent analysis and conclusions regarding on-orbit fuel depots. Dr. Griffin spoke about on-orbit technology during his testimony before the House Science, Space and Technology Committee on September 22rd, 2011.
"I'm certain you are aware that on-orbit fuel depots were included in NASA's initial Human Exploration Framework as presented on May 25, 2010," writes Rohrabacher. "Somewhere in the intervening time, depots were dropped from the plan. It is important for Congress and the American people to understand how and why that decision was made."
According to Rohrabacher, current NASA Administrator Charles Bolden told him in July he would forward this information to Congress but has yet to do so.
"When NASA proposed on-orbit fuel depots in this Administration's original plan for human space exploration, they said this game-changing technology could make the difference between exploring space and falling short. Then the depots dropped out of the conversation, and NASA has yet to provide any supporting documents explaining the change," says Rohrabacher.
"The promise and potential of on-orbit fuel depots is the ability to use our existing fleet of launch vehicles, including Delta IV, Atlas V, Falcon 9, Taurus II, and Liberty, to enable deep space missions. Using this system instead of a huge "monster" rocket would increase flight rates, bringing greater efficiency into operations, increasing flight experience and providing data leading to greater reliability; and would increase the market potential for the commercial systems we will use for crew and cargo transportation to the International Space Station.
"If it can work, it's a win for American jobs, a win for NASA's human space exploration program, and a win for America's future in space. We would have to make some sacrifices, like the spectacle of the huge rocket launch, and the giant fairing, but it may well be worth it. It even enables the separation of the crew, who require tremendously reliable systems, from the easily replaceable cargo, just like the Constellation design.
"I know not everyone's a fan of this path, and even Dr. Griffin has said it might not be the best way to go. If he is saying the technical challenge of on-orbit fuel depots is too far a reach for our nation's best and brightest engineers, then we need to take that seriously. But if it isn't being done because of bureaucratic bias or political concerns, that's something else. Either way, I know Mike Griffin will agree NASA should provide the detailed analysis and conclusions, so we can take a look and be confident in their decisions moving forward."
Rep. Rohrabacher is a senior member of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology.
September 26, 2011
The Honorable Michael D. Griffin
Eminent Scholar and Professor
Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering
University of Alabama in Huntsville
N274 Technology Hall
Huntsville, AL 35899
Dear Dr. Griffin,
Thank you for taking the time to testify before the Science, Space, and Technology Committee last week. I understand that you spoke about on-orbit fuel depots after I left the hearing to meet another commitment.
I'm certain you are aware that on-orbit fuel depots were included in NASA's initial Human Exploration Framework as presented by Doug Cooke, Associate Administrator for NASA's Exploration Systems Mission Directorate on May 25, 2010. Somewhere in the intervening time, depots were dropped from the plan. It is important for Congress and the American people to understand how and why that decision was made.
Due to your continuing interest in this topic, as well as your strong belief in the importance of accountability and transparency in human space exploration, which you reiterated in yesterday's testimony, I ask that you join me in calling for NASA to make public the analysis and conclusions performed as part of the Human Exploration Framework Team activities.
Member of Congress