NASA (and Congress) Have No Idea What "Commercial Space" Means

Moon to be private colony - NASA, AAP

"Our private industry partners have built every single space craft we have ever flown. "NASA has never built a single human-rated space craft."

Keith's note: C'mon, Charlie, be honest. Of course NASA has built human-rated spacecraft - along with its aerospace industry partners. It has always been that way. Wordsmithing won't change the facts.

I just love it when NASA and Congress plays this semantic game i.e. "commercial" vs "government". Charlie Bolden uses this throw away line to justify the current focus on utilization of commercial launchers to provide crew and cargo services. Fine. For "commercial" efforts, aerospace contractors provide services with less than usual government oversight, with significant government seed money, but also with significant private investments. Yet, simultaneously, NASA (i.e. "government") mandates and oversees the construction of Orion using one of the very same aerospace companies that is involved in the "commercial" efforts (I would hope NASA's Orion is human-rated) and also directs the construction of the SLS - likewise using another aerospace company that also participates in the "commercial" activities.

Why don't we call Orion and SLS "commercial" too? They are being built by the very same "commercial" companies, Charlie. The only difference (I guess) - and this is often hard to discern given NASA's propensity to fiddle with things - is how much government oversight (it is never zero and always in contention) and how much private incentive and innovation are involved. This is a dumb question, but I will ask it any way: can NASA define the term "commerical space" - in a sentence or two? Of course it can't.

Sen. Nelson, Hutchison et al also get caught in this same semantic trap. They want "commercial" space to proceed in their home states but they also want to control how that happens in parallel (i.e. the "nation's space program") and therefore cut a big slice off for the NASA centers in their home states. Since they are all about controlling things, "commercial" space always suffers.

Truth be known, NASA's interest in commercial space is half-hearted, at best. They have been dragged into this kicking and screaming and use every opportunity to slow-roll and exert old-fashioned control whenever and wherever they can. And their guidance flip flops: Space Act - yes, Space Act - no, Space Act - yes ... Meanwhile, Congress doesn't even pretend to be interested in commercial space and is simply interested in how many dollars are heading back home to voters. If the word "commercial" can be applied to the money fine. If not, who cares.

That said, SpaceX, Orbital, and others are still trying to change the way we do things in space using NASA help and commerical smarts. Now if only NASA and Congress will sit down, shut up, and let them try and show what "commercial" thinking can do.

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This page contains a single entry by Keith Cowing published on April 12, 2012 12:50 AM.

JSC Human Space Flight Vets Complain About NASA's Climate Change Position (Update) was the previous entry in this blog.

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