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Hello, and welcome. Our theme this week is detente – as in the easing of hostilities between rivals. It is what we saw in space 35 years ago this week when Apollo and Soyuz joined together in low earth orbit – and it is what we are seeing unfold over the past few days in Washington – as Congress and the White House try to compromise on what is next for NASA after the shuttles are retired. The Senate Commerce Committee unanimously approved an authorization bill that embraces much of the white house space vision – with some key differences: Under the Senate plan, NASA will launch Atlantis one more time next year…meaning there are three shuttle missions remaining. NASA will begin work on a heavy lift rocket immediately – not in 2015 as Obama had promised. As for the similarities: Ferrying cargo and astronauts to low Earth orbit will still fall to commercial companies, the ISS gets a lease extension to 2020, and there is more money earmarked for space and earth science and aeronautics. The man leading the charge on this Senator Bill Nelson of Florida. He bristled when reporters suggested the new plan mandates NASA do exactly what the Augustine Commission warned against: throwing out Constellation to start work on an underfunded new rocket.
What this does is set up a new heavy lift vehicle, on a deadline of December 31, 2016, and this is achievable because of the policy that has been set by the committee. The committee cannot tell NASA how to design a rocket, but we can give policy direction to the executive branch of government, and we’ve done that in the bill. Using shuttle derived technology, building on that, making it evolvable, not building the largest rocket around but starting in the range of 75 to 100 metric tons, that is evolvable, and that would be built over the course of those six years within a budget of 11 and a half billion dollars. Now that is doable. And if anybody tells you that it is not, then if I were you I’d question their particular agenda.
In the interest of detente – the White House released a statement – saying in part – the Senate bill “represents an important first step towards helping us achieve the key goals the President has laid out…“We look forward to continuing to work with Congress to help advance an ambitious and achievable space program, one that helps us blaze a new trail of innovation and discovery.”
Thirty five years ago this week, they were blazing a whole new trail in space – when two space capsules – a Soviet Soyuz and an American Apollo rendezvoused and docked in low earth orbit. The Apollo Soyuz Test Project captured the attention of the world – as the two nuclear superpowers put their differences aside – and found they had much in common. This past week the surviving crew members came to New York City – to the OMEGA Watch Boutique on Fifth Avenue to celebrate the anniversary – hey what better place to mark a moment in time??
What they accomplished on their mission planted the seed for the international space station. U.S. Commander Tom Stafford flew with two rookies – one of whom was his boss – the late Deke Slayton – one of the original Mercury Seven – was grounded for years because of a heart murmur – but finally got a clean bill of health. Also on board Apollo: Vance Brand – who later commanded three shuttle missions. The Soviets were led by Alexey Leonov – the first person to walk in space. He flew with Valery Kubasov. The three of them gathered for a panel talk in the OMEGA Boutique – yours truly served as moderator. Unfortunately Alexey Leonov was not feeling well – and could not join us.
Thanks to OMEGA for hosting that great event – as you probably know, the company has a long, rich history with human spaceflight.
In fact, there would not be an international space station without Apollo Soyuz – and while the Senate bill we told you about envisions another mission for Atlantis – until that happens the Endeavour sts-134 mission is still the last in line – and the external fuel tank that will power that shuttle to orbit arrived at the Kennedy Space Center a few days ago – after a safe voyage across the BP tainted gulf. The mission is set to fly at the end of February.