April 15, 2010

Privatizing the space program

The president didn't say much in his televised remarks that wasn't in the documents released earlier. He did give credit to Rep. Suzanne Kosmas for supporting her constituency, but he pronounced her name "cosmos." Twice.

Once the president had gone and the conference got under way, Norm Augustine gave an overview of his commission's report for those who haven't read it in its 150-page entirety. I have to admit to being among those. I've read parts, but admittedly not all of it. If you want to take a stab at it, you can download a copy here.

Augustine identified the president's plan as the "flexible plan" outlined in his commission's report in Chapter Six, Section Five, Variant 5B. This plan will delegate routine jobs like delivering materials to the space station to commercial carriers while NASA does fun stuff like exploring the asteroid belt. To those who express concern over turning this job over to private industry, he asks whether we prefer to trust the Russians with it, or American companies. It's a valid question.

My major concern with turning spaceflight -- especially manned spaceflight -- over to private industry is the profit motive. Mind you, I'm as big a fan of the free market as anyone, but what we have seen is that the profit motive can lead companies to do crazy things like growing too big too fast and cutting corners on quality and then you're making headlines for all the wrong reasons.

I understand that this plan, by reducing NASA's role in servicing the space station, will have lower operating costs. But NASA must maintain quality oversight, lest we put our crews on rockets with runaway accelerators.

Charles Bolden, at the podium, opened the Conference on the American Space Program for the 21st Century by asking the participants to "go and do good stuff." Behind him is U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson. Photo credit: NASA/Jim Grossmann.

No comments:

Post a Comment