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SLS-backer Senator Richard Shelby (R-Alabama) to retire

Senator Richard Shelby (R-Alabama), long time firm supporter of the very expensive and long-delayed Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, has announced that he will not run for office again when his term expires in ’22.

The 86-year-old Shelby was first elected to the Senate in 1986 after eight years in the House. Shelby served in the House, and the first eight years in the Senate, as a Democrat, switching to the Republican party in 1994.

Shelby is best known in the space community for his role shaping NASA programs as a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee. That has included stints as chairman of the commerce, justice and science subcommittee, whose jurisdiction includes NASA, as well as of the full committee. With Democrats in control of the Senate, he is currently the ranking member of the full committee.

“I have worked to enhance Alabama’s role in space exploration and the security of our nation,” Shelby said in the statement announcing his decision not to run for reelection. That’s included support for programs based at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, such as the Space Launch System. “As chairman of the appropriations committee, I have more than a passing interest in what NASA does. And I have a little parochial interest, too, in what they do in Huntsville, Alabama,” he said at a March 2019 industry event

As the article makes clear, Shelby used his clout unceasingly to keep SLS funded. When NASA simply hinted in 2019 that it might switch to another rocket to launch Orion he made his displeasure known, and NASA immediately backed down.

His resignation now, at the same time that other members of Congress as well as the Biden administration appear to be separating the Artemis lunar program from SLS, is a strong signal that the political winds are blowing badly against SLS. Shelby has probably realized that he no longer has the same support for SLS in the rest of Congress that he once had, and knows there is a good chance it will go away, along with much of the pork he has been funneling to Alabama with it. When that happens, his chances of getting reelected drop precipitously. He probably doesn’t have to inclination to fight what might be a losing battle, especially at the age of 86.

The second static fire test of SLS’s core stage is presently scheduled for the fourth week in February. All had better go well, as time is running out in getting the rocket’s first launch off in ’21. Right now that schedule is very iffy. Further problems will make it impossible.

And any major failures would probably lead to the entire program’s cancellation. It would take years for SLS to recover the loss of the core stage, time the program does not have.

Pioneer cover

From the press release: From the moment he is handed a possibility of making the first alien contact, Saunders Maxwell decides he will do it, even if doing so takes him through hell and back.

Unfortunately, that is exactly where that journey takes him.

The vision that Zimmerman paints of vibrant human colonies on the Moon, Mars, the asteroids, and beyond, indomitably fighting the harsh lifeless environment of space to build new societies, captures perfectly the emerging space race we see today.

He also captures in Pioneer the heart of the human spirit, willing to push forward no matter the odds, no matter the cost. It is that spirit that will make the exploration of the heavens possible, forever, into the never-ending future.

Available everywhere for $3.99 (before discount) at amazon, Barnes & Noble, all ebook vendors, or direct from the ebook publisher, ebookit. And if you buy it from ebookit you don't support the big tech companies and I get a bigger cut much sooner.


  • Captain Emeritus

    “Show me a man that gets rich by being a politician, and I’ll show you a crook.” ―
    Harry Truman

    Shelby’s net worth, $20M in 2018. (Wikipedia)
    But, seriously, you only have to save 400K/year of your salary to have 20m in 50 years.

  • Jeff Wright

    My home state of Alabama would have made MORE money by launching lots of EELVs with hydrogen boiling off depots meaning even more launches. Besides, I was the one who told him that the EELV-only approach would also be seen as one state’s pork. Better to reduce assembly and boil-off with shuttle derived HLLVs that many called for long before Congress listened. It was also best to have many states behind the project…I wrote…so it could garner widespread support. With Kelly now elected, Shelby can retire. Mind you, this all took place before Musk was a known player just yet. Then, the arguement was depots-vs-HLLVs. STARSHIP uses both approachs wih methane…best all round. SLS hydrogen is still the best for NTRs.

  • john hare

    “”Shelby’s net worth, $20M in 2018. (Wikipedia)
    But, seriously, you only have to save 400K/year of your salary to have 20m in 50 years.””

    Not exactly. Investing across 50 years at compound interest gives a totally different result. Especially when a little market fore knowledge is available. What would a $1M stock purchase in 2009 be worth today? Doesn’t mean he is legitimate, just that investment works on a different level than sticking savings in the mattress.

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