Its Time To Rethink ISS Utilization

Keith's note: I just read this during the public input portion of today's NASA Advisory Council Regulatory and Policy Committee Meeting:

"My name is Keith Cowing. I am a former NASA civil servant and space biologist whose job in the 1990s entailed many of the utilization tasks currently assigned to CASIS - except we were planning them before there was an actual space station. CASIS has had nearly a decade to get up to speed with regard to its responsibilities as laid out in their NASA cooperative agreement and as a non-profit entity. CASIS has a guaranteed annual income of $15 million which is provided to CASIS - by NASA - regardless of the quality of performance demonstrated by CASIS. After nearly a decade CASIS still relies upon NASA for 99.9% of its funding.

Despite being given a government sanctioned monopoly on the utilization of the US portion of the ISS - the so-called ISS National Laboratory - CASIS has yet to be able to fully utilize the on-orbit resources given to it by NASA - including the all important crew time. CASIS has been unable to provide adequate metrics to explain what it does. Both the NASA Office of Inspector General and the Government Accountability Office have found significant problems with CASIS' performance as well as NASA's management of CASIS which could be characterized as being somewhat of an absentee landlord. When CASIS was given its ISS role NASA only envisioned partial utilization of its overall ISS assets - those covered by the ISS National Lab. Now, a decade later, NASA envisions turning over the totality of its operations on board the ISS to the private sector. To do so NASA needs to totally revisit how it manages ISS including the CASIS Cooperative Agreement.

Given that CASIS is already incapable of meeting its chartered responsibilities on just a portion of the ISS it is unlikely that it can be expected to assume additional responsibilities that would go with managing all U.S. assets on the ISS. As such I would urge NASA to end its agreement with CASIS and re-compete these ISS National Lab responsibilities as part of a larger effort to transfer operations of the ISS to a commercial entity - if that is indeed where NASA intends to go.

The ISS is an unprecedented research facility - one who's full potential has yet to be fully realized. Despite what they might want you to believe CASIS is not the solution to the under utilization of the ISS. Rather, CASIS is the cause of its under utilization. This under utilization has gone on for far too long. Indeed CASIS often seems to be far more interested in comic book character tie-ins than doing quality science.

NASA needs to get this whole utilization thing fixed before the agency tries to commercialize anything more on the ISS. Not to do so will be to continue to waste an astonishing facility - one constructed at great expense.

Thank you for your time."

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Wernher von Braun Memorial Symposium September 10 - 12, 2019






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This page contains a single entry by Keith Cowing published on May 1, 2019 4:43 PM.

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