Space leaders to Congress: Light this commercial candle!

The entire universe in blog form
March 3 2011 11:00 AM

Space leaders to Congress: Light this commercial candle!

I received a very interesting email from Alan Stern -- head of the New Horizons Pluto flyby mission, and who, for a year, was NASA's Associate Administrator for the Science Mission Directorate.

Here's what it said:

The attached open letter was sent to Congress today after being signed by over 55 space leaders.

The letter urges Congress to fully fund NASA’s plan to use commercial companies to carry crew to the Space Station.

Among the letter's signatories are an unusually broad group of former NASA executives and advisors, former astronauts, CEOs and directors of firms large and small, space scientists, space journalists, and others. We include 14 former NASA astronauts, 5 former NASA senior executives, 13 educators and nonprofit leaders, and 24 space industry leaders from a wide variety of firms and institutions, both large and small.

I am a big advocate of this, having written many times that NASA should be exploring and creating new technologies, but should not be in the business of hauling stuff to space. That is better -- and more cheaply -- done by commercial contractors.

I've put the entire letter online here for you to read.

Here's one part I particularly like:

By creating competition, and using fixed price contracts, NASA’s commercial crew program offers a much less expensive way of transporting NASA astronauts to the Station than any other domestic means. Funding NASA’s Commercial Crew program would lower the cost of access to low Earth orbit, thus enabling more of NASA’s budget to be applied to its focus on exploration beyond low Earth orbit, and better enabling the kind of program laid out in NASA’s authorization bill.

NASA is not immune to the cuts in spending the new Congress is so rabidly pursuing. In fact, it's usually the first with its head on the chopping block. You'd think funding commercial crew programs would be an easy decision for Congress to make, given the propensity of Republicans in Congress to support private industry. However, many Republicans have bizarrely been outspoken against the commercialization of space for reasons I honestly do not understand (see Related Posts below).

So this letter may help. Congress needs to understand that for a tiny fraction of the national budget, NASA produces a hugely leveraged return on investment. And if we can put some of that money toward the commercial sector, we can leave more money for NASA to do what it does best: explore the Universe and bring inspiration to us back home.


Related posts:

- Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) disses private space
- Congress passes NASA authorization bill, but I'd rather watch sausages being made
- Akin breakin' heart
- President Obama's NASA budget unveiled


Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!  


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