John McCain Promotes SpaceX Rocket Launches Above National Interest

John McCain once again goes to bat for Elon Musk
John McCain once again goes to bat for Elon Musk

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) is so closely tied to Elon Musk and his space launch company SpaceX, that the senator is promoting their interests even above national and public interest. A senator who is chairman of the Armed Service Committee should be advocating the best options for space launches available, but instead McCain has consistently done everything he could to steer those launch contracts to SpaceX, the company founded and run by his close crony Elon Musk. The latest shot from McCain is citing national security concern in the process of using the Russian-made RD-180 rocket engines, and asking the Defense Department’s Inspector General to consider this issue in review of current launch providers. There are two such providers currently, United Launch Alliance (ULA) that is phasing out usage of the Russian-made rocket engines, and SpaceX, heavily favored by McCain.

McCain has consistently sided with SpaceX over ULA, to the extent that he is being investigated for inappropriately advocating SpaceX on behalf of Elon Musk over the public interest in getting contracts for the best possible launch services available. McCain sought to have ULA blocked from the process of bidding on NASA and military launch contracts due to their use of the Russian-made rocket engines. Since the two companies are the only qualified provider of launch services, McCain knows he wins a monopoly on the contracts for Musk’s SpaceX if ULA is barred from bidding.

The claim of natural security concerns is the latest ruse from McCain to further block ULA from competing with SpaceX for the government launch contracts. There is a problem with switching from the Russian-made RD-180 rockets to a combination of Delta IV rockets made by ULA and Falcon 9 rockets made by SpaceX: the transition could cost as much as $5 billion, according to Air Force Secretary Deborah James. This is quite inconvenient for Sen. McCain and his good friend Elon Musk, if it really would (needlessly) cost billions to switch over to using rocket launches made by SpaceX. So McCain instead attempts to trump the cost issue by injecting the claim of natural security concerns in the process.

Contrary to the estimates you provided to me in private, I am left to conclude that your decision to publicly cite a figure as high as $5 billion was done so to obfuscate efforts to responsibly transition off of the RD-180 before the end of the decade,” McCain blasted off at Secretary James, “I invite you to clarify the record in the context of proposals actually being considered by the committee… While you chose to selectively omit the [Department of Defense Office of Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation (CAPE)] assessment in your response, we have since been briefed by the CAPE and have been provided with compelling analysis demonstrating cost implications that are starkly different from what you stated in your testimony. In fact, according to CAPE, the cost of meeting assured access to space requirements without the use of Russian rocket engines could be similar to what we pay today.”

McCain is suggesting the $5 billion figure is bogus, as if it’s cited simply to prevent the transition to the SpaceX rocket launches that he favors, and not because it actually would cost that much to make the change. In this question, McCain is suggesting that the Air Force Secretary is being unethical, while he is clearly showing how far he is willing to go, despite this conflict of interest in this matter, to advance the interests of SpaceX.

This access and presence of Russian nationals to the launch vehicles of our most sensitive national security satellites raises new troubling questions and is yet another reason for ending our dependence on Russian rocket engines as quickly as possible,” McCain wrote in his letter to Secretary James, “With this in mind, I question why you find it acceptable to have Russian nationals working for Roscosmos, a Russian state corporation, present at our most sensitive satellite launches.”

The decisions on launch contracts and purchasing rocket engines should be based on what is the best deal the U.S. can secure to most effectively complete the launches needed, not on the basis of whether or not it benefit McCain’s friend Elon Musk because it enriches the Corporate Welfare King by signing launch contracts with SpaceX. John McCain has proven he is more than willing to put the interests of SpaceX and Elon Musk above those of the country. Our senators need to work in the public interest rather than in the interests of corruption and cronyism. On this test, Sen. McCain clearly has failed.