Despite political push back, manned space trips from South Padre Island explored


For those of you unpatriotic sorts who wonder why it has been almost 40 years since we last put a man on the moon, we offer a story we call “SpaceX and the Texas Senator.”

SpaceX is a private aerospace company in California developing what they hope will someday be craft for manned space trips.

To that end, the company this week filed its intention to do an environmental impact statement for the Federal Aviation Administration to pave the way to build a rocket launching site on the Gulf Coast, five miles south of South Padre Island, according to a Houston Chronicle blog.

The impact statement says the company is bringing economic development to the area, building a hangar, a launch pad, a full workshop, warehouse and a fuel storage area. From there the company intends to make 12 launches over the Gulf of rockets carrying commercial, satellite and experimental payloads, the statement says.

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison has long thought manned flights into deep space are a great idea, as long as the government is launching them from a taxpayer-financed space center with a name like Johnson somewhere in her home state.

The ranking member of the Commerce Science and Transportation Committee and Appropriations Committee has, however, presided over the atrophy of her beloved National Aeronautics and Space Administration and its manned space programs.

The 2011 NASA budget of $18.4 billion, is expected to shrink to $17.7 billion this year and is estimated to be $17.7 billion in 2013.

In 1966, three years before Apollo 11 put the first man on the moon, the United States spent 4.4 percent of its entire budget on the space program. This year it is expected to dip to .48 percent.

The recession of NASA’s manned space ambitions has given rise to space entrepreneurs like SpaceX, flamboyant Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic and plucky little Armadillo Aerospace near Dallas.

The Texas Space Alliance formed to bring space transportation and its economic benefit to the state in a private rather than public way.

Rather than be left behind, NASA has formed partnerships, helping sponsor the X Prize, a competition providing millions of dollars in prize money to private aerospace developers.

Last April NASA awarded $269 million to four companies with a goal of manned commercial space travel by 2015. Boeing received $92 million; Sierra Nevada Corp., $80 million; and Blue Origin, $22 million.

SpaceX, the fourth company, got $75 million from Hutchison’s pet federal project. Hutchison, the Chronicle blog says, continues to worry private companies are siphoning too much money from NASA.

The entire $269 million in grants represents 1.46 percent of the NASA budget. The SpaceX grant alone is .41 percent of the budget.

Contact Mark Lisheron at 512-299-2318 or or on Twitter at @marktxwatchdog.

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Photo 'ATREX - sounding rockets' by flickr user NASA Goddard Photo and Video, used via a Creative Commons license.