Democrat Bill Aims to Change NASA Moon Lander Plan

Democrat Bill Aims to Change NASA Moon Lander Plan buzz aldrin on the moon in 1969 Buzz Aldrin on the Moon in 1969 (Neil Armstrong/AP)

By Nick Koutsobinas | Wednesday, 12 May 2021 08:48 PM

A controversial piece of legislation that directs NASA to pick a second company to build its next Moon landers – instead of SpaceX – was introduced Wednesday by Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash.

Cantwell, who sits on the Senate Commerce Committee overseeing NASA, has proposed an amendment to another bill that would authorize NASA to spend another $10 billion through fiscal 2026 and calls for NASA to award a second winner, potentially Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin, which is headquartered in her home state.

"The administrator shall maintain competitiveness within the human landing system program by funding design, development, testing, and evaluation for not fewer than two entities," Cantwell's amendment reads, Bloomberg reported.

Cantwell's move comes after some lobbying efforts from Blue Origin.

"We're pleased that the Senate Commerce Committee recognized the importance of competition in NASA's Human Landing System program," Bezos' Blue Origin statement to The Washington Post read.

"Continued competition will safeguard America's space industrial base and get America back to the Moon as quickly as possible."

Before NASA had chosen SpaceX, the original competition stated it would go with two companies to create its lunar landers. But NASA went with SpaceX after bidding under Blue Origin by nearly half.

"It was in NASA's best interest, along with the budget that was there, for us to award to one," NASA's human spaceflight chief Kathy Lueder said, according to The Verge.

But introducing legislation that would introduce new competitors could create conflict between agreements already established between NASA and SpaceX, an agency official said.

"It's not as simple as picking the next in line," they said.

But Cantwell disagrees.

"NASA has a big tradition of ensuring resilience in commercial programs by using multiple competitors and maintaining what's called dissimilar redundancy," she said during a hearing. "So, I want to know that you will commit to rapidly providing Congress with a plan for assuring that kind of resilience our of the Human Lander program."

And Linda Mills, vice president of communications at Blue Origin, agreed with the senator's sentiment as well.

"We're pleased that the Senate Commerce Committee recognized the importance of competition in NASA's Human Landing System program," Mills wrote in an email. "Continued competition will safeguard America's space industrial base and get America back to the Moon as quickly as possible."

Original Article