Keith's update: At a NASA press conference on Thursday a senior representative from CASIS refused to provide basic cost numbers for the space station payloads it funds. Yet last week another senior CASIS representative volunteered specific ISS payload cost information. Why is CASIS leadership so confused about the basic services that it provides?
The press conference was about the science payloads on the upcoming CRS-8 SpaceX flight, Ken Shields, CASIS' Director of Operations (on the right) appeared with 3 employees from Eli Lilly (in lab coats). Shields was asked what the costs associated with the CASIS-sponsored payloads aboard CRS-8 provided by pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly are. Shields declined to provide specifics other than to say that CASIS supports these payloads. When pressed again for a dollar amount, Shields again declined to provide a clear answer as to the cost borne by CASIS or NASA and punted to Lilly who then declined to say how much money they had put into this research. NASA PAO did not inform off-site media in advance that there was a dial-in number for this press event, so I tried using the #askNASA option via Twitter (which of course was ignored).
Eli Lilly is a private company and its certainly up to them to reveal or not reveal this cost number. But CASIS is a non-profit organization that relies upon NASA for 99.9% of its budget and gets free transportation into space - fully paid for by NASA. So the real question is, how much does it cost NASA to support payloads such as the one being flown by Eli Lilly? With a title such as "Director of Operations", you'd expect that someone like Shields would know the basic aspects of how CASIS does its prime task: flying payloads to the ISS - and what it costs to do so. Guess not.
Curiously, just a week earlier, at a briefing by CASIS at the National Academy of Sciences, CASIS Director of Commercial Innovation and Sponsored Programs Cynthia Bouthot (sorry for the spelling error on Twitter) said that CASIS provides $7.5 million per payload. Why was Ken Shields unable/unwilling to provide that answer at today's press conference? He was clearly there at a press conference with the Eli Lilly folks to talk about their research - and CASIS just loves to brag about all of the money they have raised for payloads. You'd think that "how much does this all cost?" would be a question that he'd be prepared to answer. So, did Shields know the cost number and not answer or did he not know the number? Either way, that's not a good sign.
The issue of what CASIS does, what it spends, and who funds what it does has been a subject of interest of late for the NASA Advisory Council where they made a presentation As I noted in my story from earlier this week "CASIS Had A Bad Week In Washington" "CASIS' repeated refusal to speak clearly on the topic of its income, funding, grants, and operations became problematical for the NAC. When pressed further on their income CASIS said that they were not allowed to generate "revenue" (even though their IRS returns clearly show that they did generate revenue albeit only a little). When the NAC members asked for more details on what CASIS was funding CASIS emphatically stated that they are not a "funding" organization. Moments later CASIS staff showed slides that talked about funding."
Yet here we are, just a few days after CASIS' Executive Director underwhelmed the NAC, and a member of CASIS senior management publicly states that does not know what it costs CASIS to fly payloads to the ISS while other senior CASIS staff cited specific numbers on that topic at yet another meeting last week. Does anyone at CASIS know what CASIS is doing?