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Local Aerospace Head Talks About NASA Budget, Mission

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) – Mike Rudolphi knows a bit about the space program.  He’s the former head of Shuttle Propulsion at Marshall Space Flight Center, and also Director of Engineering at the center.

“I’m a space enthusiast that knows a little bit about science,” Rudolphi said with a smile. WHNT News 19’s Steve Johnson invited Rudolphi to join us October 23 for Leadership Perspectives.

Rudolphi retired from NASA, and as Vice President of ATK, he helped develop the Advanced Solid Rocket Booster.  Currently he has his own company, NuSpace, and is a consultant for several aerospace companies.

We talked with Rudolphi about several topics relating to NASA, including the space agency’s current budget, competition from other countries and losing time during the recent government shutdown.

“Losing 2 weeks – how big of a burden is that?” Steve Johnson asked.

“By far, it’s more of a burden than just the window of the shutdown,” Rudolphi said. “We’re going to lose more than 16 days that the government was closed.  There was a lot of money wasted in the 16-day period.  It’s a bigger deal than 16 days. Time will tell us, as it shakes out, what it really was.”

Rudolphi discussed NASA’s current mission, to design a replacement for the space shuttle.

“I think we’re in pretty good shape to meet that 2017 deadline,” he said.  “But we need a boost in the funding plan.”

We asked him if NASA’s budget is adequate.

“To execute a program of this magnitude, and this scope, the funding is a
shoestring. It is inadequate for this country to do the things that we’ve asked
NASA to do, to develop a plan to go to either the moon, or an asteroid, or a
moon of Mars, or Mars, and develop a program around the funding we have today,
it’s just not there,” Rudolphi said.

“The funding today is only to build the rocket. There’s no funding in there for
missions, for doing the preparatory work for those kinds of missions. We’re in a
real funding crunch right now. The guys and girls at NASA are doing a great job
with the funding they’ve got. We’re in a serious dilemma in terms of doing something with the rocket, when we get the rocket built,” Rudolphi added.

On the subject of international competition – WHNT News 19 asked Rudolphi if it frustrates him that the United States, the world’s space leader, doesn’t currently have a way to get to space.  He said yes, but there must be must be a drive, a vision, pushed from the top down.  Rudolphi said he doesn’t see that happening with our current leadership, across the board.

“I think with the present environment we have in Washington.. short of a
physical threat of some kid, I seriously doubt it,” Rudolphi said. “I doubt that the Chinese or Russians doing something really, really, really exciting in space will change
much of what’s going on, in terms of a country’s leadership in terms of what we
do.”

Is it a crisis of leadership, a lack of vision, that’s holding us back, WHNT News 19 asked?

“Absolutely. We don’t have a budget crisis. We’ve got a crisis in leadership in
deciding what we’re going to do,” said Rudolphi.

“I put it squarely at the leadership’s feet. Across the board. Between Congress, Senate and the administration — if they wanted to do this, it would get done,” he said.