“We can fly Orion in 2013”, says John Karas, the VP and General Manager of Human Space Flight for Lockheed Martin. Lockheed is the prime contractor for NASA’s Orion capsule.
“There is no doubt in my mind we can do this. And Orion is very safe”. He strenuously repeated this statement to me several times with absolutely no doubt in his mind during a wide ranging interview. I spoke at length with Karas today (Feb. 6) at the NASA Press Center shortly before the scheduled Feb. 7 launch of shuttle Endeavour on the STS 130 mission to the ISS.
Lockheed Martin has issued an official statement saying, “We are keenly disappointed in the Administration’s budget proposal for NASA that would cancel Project Orion as part of an elimination of NASA’s Constellation Program. Orion’s maturity is evident in its readiness for a first test flight in a matter of weeks. In fact, Orion can be ready for crewed flights to low Earth orbit and other exploration missions as early as 2013, thus narrowing the gap in U.S. human space flight capability when the shuttle is retired later this year”.
Karas decried the complete lack of vision and realism by the Obama Administration and NASA in deciding to terminate Project Constellation, which includes the new Orion Capsule, the Ares 1 booster rocket for Orion and the Ares 5 Heavy Lift booster required to reach the Moon, Mars and beyond. “I was very surprised by the cancellation. We expected and felt that a middle ground with some changes to Constellation was reasonable. We did not expect to be left with nothing”.
“Where is the US Leadership in space if we don’t have a heavy lifter soon ?
“Russia, China and India will all have Heavy Lift boosters better than the US. Why would anyone have an incentive to work with us if they have already developed their own Heavy Lifter. The nations of the world will look elsewhere, not to the US”, Karas told me emphatically.
“We will not maintain Space leadership if the US will only be spending money on technology development under the new proposals by the Obama Administration, and not on an actual rocket program that builds, tests and launches flight hardware.”
“For now, I told the team that Job 1 is to stay calm and keep focused. We are not terminated yet. We are continuing the Constellation program according to our contracts with NASA. By law, the Congress must still have its say. The program cannot be terminated without congressional approval. We have some hope there and are working with Senators and members of the House of Representatives.”