Resolving NASA dilemma: two shuttle flights per year

The concerns and debate over NASA’s future are important. The budget submitted by the president provides the forum for this debate.

There is a relatively simple and straightforward resolution based on my 15 years as a NASA manager: Maintain shuttle flights at two per year.

Contrary to some opinions, the shuttle is not an “aging” vehicle. Every launch includes a new external tank and new or completely refurbished solid rocket boosters. The shuttle itself has been upgraded many times, including improving the performance of its main engines. A NASA study indicated that the shuttle could continue to fly until 2020. NASA’s shuttle manager, John Shannon, agrees. Consider that the B-52, although not as complex a vehicle, has been flying for over 50 years. It has been continuously upgraded.

If the International Space Station is to remain as a useful laboratory until 2020 or longer, there must be the capability to make major repairs. Space debris impacts or other damage must be anticipated. Only the shuttle has the capability to carry large elements if needed, not to mention the advantage of having it docked during repair.

For U.S. taxpayers to receive any return on their $50 billion investment, there should be two U.S. crew onboard at all times to assist U.S. experimenters. If the shuttle retires, the current Russian price to carry a crewman is $51 million. Two crew at all times is $204 million per year and that price will certainly increase when Russia has a monopoly. That cost could reduce the sunk costs of maintaining shuttle flights. At two flights per year, the current overhead costs would be reduced.

As of last April, some shuttle contractors were terminated, but they haven’t disappeared. There would be start-up costs, but if the remaining flights were spread over the next two years there would not be a gap as some claim. There is no requirement to launch the last four flights by 2011.

There are many other reasons for this suggestion, including maintaining the Kennedy Space Center workforce, and not requiring major changes in the administration’s current plan. It is a much better approach than attempting to keep alive the Constellation program, which will likely not succeed.

St. Johns, Fla.

Bad science means bad regulations for farmers

From former Rep. Charles Stenholm (D-Texas)

Jennifer Sass of the activist environmental group Natural Resources Defense Council has a history of getting her facts wrong, but her letter of March 26 (“EPA foe Stenholm lobbies for maker of toxic chemical,” in response to op-ed) contained a real whopper. Sass’s protest that the NRDC “has no financial stake” in its decades-long opposition to atrazine and other essential agricultural technology is laughable.

Sass likes to accuse everyone else of having ulterior financial interests, so let’s take a look at her own. The NRDC isn’t some struggling nonprofit. According to its 2007 tax return, NRDC revenues topped $100 million and it has net assets almost twice that amount. It raises that money by scaring the wits out of people with false claims, like the one’s she repeated in her letter about atrazine.

The most infamous example of that was the Alar scare, now known to be a black mark on the radical environmentalists, who drove apple farmers out of business on no scientific foundation whatsoever.

To promote that scare, NRDC hired leftwing PR strategist David Fenton, who later boasted, “We designed [the Alar campaign] so that revenue would flow back to the Natural Resources Defense Council from the public, and we sold this book about pesticides through a 900 number and the ‘Donahue’ show. And to date there has been $700,000 in net revenue from it.”

The fact is NRDC’s radical environmentalist agenda includes a fundamental hostility to America’s corn economy. During a recent EPA hearing, Sass herself, out of the blue, shockingly questioned “whether or not we need such overproduction of corn in this country … that’s for EPA to consider.” How revealing.

The purpose of writing my March 23 letter (“Obama’s energy and ag policies not selling in rural America”) was not aimed solely at the Obama administration, but also at Congress. When organizations like the NRDC succeed in their extremist agenda, they hurt our economy.

Just a few of the NRDC’s economy-killers include another slowdown of drilling for oil and gas on public lands, attempting to impose a cost on American business by regulating greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act, passing a cap-and-trade bill, putting a fly and a smelt ahead of food producers in California, and forcing a 50 percent downsizing of the horse industry. Our voices must be raised in opposition and sorted out by the political process.

The truth is the world’s population cannot be fed without the use of technology. The population is going to increase 50 percent by 2050. NRDC has every right to its anti-technology opinion. It can continue to cause wasteful taxpayer spending by studying and restudying every issue with the sole purpose of expensive delay and raising more money for their bloated treasuries.

But it’s exactly these types of outrageous attacks that I’ve confronted head-on as a family farmer, in my 26 years as a member of congress, to today in my current role as senior policy adviser with Olsson Frank Weeda.

All 300 million Americans need to know if the activists succeed, there will be a tremendous price paid by our grandchildren.