21 December 2004
Opinion - General (None)
Advice to the New NASA Administrator
Steps to guide the future
by Carol Pinchefsky
by Charles A. Lurio

After Sean O'Keefe steps down from his position of NASA administrator, the next administrator can take several steps to steer the current state of affairs toward a profitable, sustainable future:

- The new administrator must avoid a situation where the new space market firms make business plans dependent upon - rather than possibly speeded by - 'NASA-guaranteed' (and in practice, unreliable) markets for making progress. The space sector has effectively had a 40-year Apollo hangover; it became a centrally planned industry that has yielded dismal results.

- The new administrator must not harm the promise of change embodied by the X-Prize, and beyond.

- Exploration payloads should be sent to orbit under cost contingency contracting. And if sizing of exploration hardware were made flexible enough (something inherent in propellant, assuming an orbital storage system available), it might help speed the financial case for the first days of commercial, privately financed orbital Reusable Launch Vehicles.

- I believe the new NASA administrator must work _with_ new private market space companies to get the public's best deal for programs such as human Moon/Mars exploration. NASA's previous attempt to 'nurture' the private sector has so far only yielded poor results (see exhibit A: the X-33). In my opinion, a national human space exploration program that is not open to drawing upon private industry can at best be a massively costly 'flags and footprints' project rather than anything sustainable over time. And surely even an undesirable one-shot project is a dubious proposition without drawing upon the developing private sector skills.

The real volume markets for the new space companies are in the private sector, and they are prospectively many orders of magnitude larger than anything conceivably resulting from government needs. As those new private markets materialize they will create learning curves for basic skills in space activities - from transportation to habitability and beyond - that will massively slash cost and improve reliability. These basic skills are also fundamental to much of a human exploration program.
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Carol Pinchefsky 21 December 2004
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