Earlier this month came word that a draft letter was circulating on Capitol Hill, reportedly linked to Utah's congressional delegation, calling on the administration to publish its design for the Space Launch System (SLS) heavy-lift launch vehicle and ensure it makes use of solid rocket motors. The advocacy group Tea Party in Space (TPIS) recently obtained a signed copy of the letter, featuring the signatures of five senators, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and four Republicans, most notably Orrin Hatch of Utah. TPIS minced no words in its reaction to the letter: "TPIS calls on these five senators to renounce this letter and apologize to Administrator Bolden and the hard working men and women at NASA." While five western senators signed one letter about the SLS, five southern senators have put their names to another letter critical of the administration's work on SLS. The letter to President Obama, dated Monday and signed by Republican senators from Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi, called on the White House to "immediately provide the Section 309 report to Congress", a reference to the provision of the 2010 NASA authorization act that called on NASA to provide Congress with a report the reference vehicle designs for the SLS and the Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV) within 90 days of the bill's enactment. The letter notes that the final report is now nearly 200 days overdue. "We believe the time has come to deliver the report to Congress." That letter is also critical of elements of NASA's 2011 operating plan, which includes spending money allocated for SLS on facility work at the Kennedy Space Center that the senators believe should not be charged exclusively to SLS. "The misallocation of SLS funds and the lack of synchronization between rocket and spacecraft development at NASA seem to suggest that this Administration has no intention of properly using appropriated funds," the letter concludes, asking for NASA to resubmit an operating plan "to ensure that the funds appropriated for SLS are used to develop the 130 metric ton heavy lift vehicle required in both the authorization and appropriations acts."
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