Former NASA official Doug Cooke has testified in support of prioritizing the development of the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket’s Exploration Upper Stage. The upgraded upper stage would drastically increase the capability of the SLS allowing for single-launch missions to the surface of the Moon.
Testifying to the House Space Subcommittee on the challenges facing the Artemis program, Cooke stated that NASA is making decisions that “are not being driven by what is most efficient.” Cooke suggested that NASA should focus on an Apollo-style launch architecture for Artemis Moon missions and bypass the Gateway space station.
In practice, this would result in all Artemis missions being launch aboard SLS rockets being developed by Boeing. Previously, NASA has expressed a desire to build in more flexibility allowing for multiple elements of a mission to the Moon to be launched aboard multiple smaller commercial launch vehicles. This would drastically shrink costs and with the use of rockets like the Falcon Heavy, which is already operational, projected timelines could be reduced by months or even years.
Additionally, Cooke’s instance on bypassing the Gateway space station seems to negate NASA’s push to build sustainable access to the moon. Focusing simply on returning the United States to the Moon by 2024 will likely result in the same outcome as the Apollo missions before it. Once the milestone has been achieved, the public will lose interest and funding will dry up. Gateway, on the other hand, is a commitment to a long-term push to not just visit the Moon but to give humanity a permanent home in the stars.
With Cooke’s testimony seemingly flying in the face of both conventional wisdom and NASA’s stated mission, one wonders what aim the former NASA official had in testifying before the committee.
Although Cooke testified as a former NASA official, Ars Technica revealed in September 19 report that he had been paid more than $450,000 by Boeing since 2017. The exact nature of the work Cooke did for Boeing is currently unknown. However, as Boeing is the primary contractor behind the SLS rocket and the Exploration Upper Stage, it would appear as if the former NASA official may have merely been a shill for an aerospace giant that has been paid millions in bonuses despite being overbudget and behind schedule.