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House members express support for SpaceX accident investigation

A damaged strongback can be seen in this Sept. 7 photo of Cape Canaveral's SLC-40, the site of SpaceX's Sept. 1 pre-flight Falcon 9 failure. Credit: SpaceNews/Jeff Foust

WASHINGTON — Two dozen members of the House of Representatives have signed a letter supporting the ongoing SpaceX Falcon 9 investigation, a counterpoint to an earlier letter signed by other members critical of how that investigation is being handled.

The letter, dated Sept. 30 and released Oct. 4, offers “strong support for the collective work” of the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, NASA and the U.S. Air Force both for their work in general backing the commercial launch industry as well as assisting in the SpaceX-led investigation of the Sept. 1 pad explosion that destroyed a Falcon 9 and its satellite payload prior to a static-fire test.

“Consistent with regulations, the Falcon 9 anomaly has been properly classified as a ‘mishap’ under federal law and is being resolved under applicable regulatory procedures,” the members state in the letter directed to FAA Administrator Michael Huerta, Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James and NASA Administrator Charles Bolden.

The letter also endorses the roles taken by the FAA to oversee SpaceX’s investigation and by NASA and the Air Force to participate on the accident investigation board. “We applaud this approach as consistent with long-standing accident investigation procedures and post-anomaly return-to-flight processes internal to Air Force and NASA regulations,” the letter states.

The letter stands in sharp contrast to one signed by ten House members Sept. 29, also directed to NASA, the Air Force and the FAA. It criticized NASA for allowing SpaceX to lead the investigation after the June 2015 Falcon 9 launch failure on a mission to deliver cargo to the International Space Station, and the FAA for letting SpaceX lead the current investigation.

“We feel strongly that the current investigation should be led by NASA and the Air Force to ensure that proper investigative engineering rigor is applied and that the outcomes are sufficient to prevent NASA and military launch mishaps in the future,” that earlier letter stated.

The new letter, while not explicitly mentioning the earlier one, alludes to it when calling on agencies to maintain their current roles in this investigation. “Accidents are unfortunate events, and accident investigations should not be politicized,” it states. “We encourage you to reject calls for your organizations to abandon established, well-considered, and long-standing procedures.”

The letter is signed by 11 Republicans and 13 Democrats. Some are from districts with ties to SpaceX: Rep. Bill Flores (R-Texas) represents a district that includes the city of McGregor, where SpaceX has a test site, while the district of Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) includes SpaceX’s headquarters in Hawthorne. Others are from states such as Indiana, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania where SpaceX does not have a presence.

SpaceNews.com

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House members express support for SpaceX accident investigation

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