Status Report

Letter from Sens. Murray and Chambliss to NASA Regarding Open Competition for SLS

By SpaceRef Editor
July 1, 2011
Filed under ,

July 1, 2011

The Honorable Charles F. Bolden, Jr.
National Aeronautics and Space Agency
Two Independence Square
200 E Street, SW, Room 9F44
Washington, DC 20546

Dear Administrator Bolden:

The coming weeks will mark a defining moment in our nation’s history of space exploration with the retirement of the Space Shuttle and the anticipated announcement of plans for the new Space Launch System (SLS). As with Shuttle, the decision NASA makes regarding the SLS will define the space exploration system the United States develops for the next 30 to 40 years.

Recently, we learned that NASA may be considering proceeding with a SLS based on the propulsion systems and hardware developed for the Space Shuttle and the canceled Ares launch vehicle. As members of the Senate Aerospace Caucus, we are writing because we have concerns about the process by which NASA has come to this decision and the lack of competition in part of this architecture.

It is no secret that competition drives efficiencies and innovation. We believe as NASA works to develop the plans for the SLS, this process should be competitive, transparent and open. Additionally, it is critical NASA considers all possible options that will maintain our leadership in space, while being mindful of fiscal sustainability in this very tough budget climate.

As you know, the 2010 NASA Authorization Act requires use of existing contracts, workforce and hardware, but it does so only “to the extent practicable.” We are concerned that a launch vehicle constructed of components from systems that were never competed, or have not been competed in decades, is not the most affordable, effective and sustainable solution. This approach will not be the innovation driver that will promote new technologies and create the new economic possibilities and jobs our country needs.

We recognize the need to respect the outcome of recent competitions. There have already been competitions conducted for the Crew Exploration Vehicle, now called the Multipurpose Crew Vehicle, and for the upper stage development. We now encourage you to include a full, fair and open competition for the strap-on booster elements of the SLS in your final human spaceflight architecture. In these tough budget times, it is important for every government agency and program to consider every option that may lead to increased efficiencies, lower costs and higher value.


Patty Murray
United States Senator

Saxby Chambliss
United States Senator

cc: The Honorable John P. Holdren, Assistant to the President for Science and Technology
and Director, Office of Science and Technology Policy
Mr. Robert L. Nabors 11, Deputy Assistant to the President and Senior Advisor to
the Chief of Staff, The White House
Mr. Jack Lew, Director, Office of Management and Budget

SpaceRef staff editor.