6 February 2003
Opinion - Vehicles (None)
Leave the Driving to Us
An appeal to NASA
by Sam Coniglio
By Sam Coniglio

Sadly, it took another tragedy, the explosion of the Space Shuttle Columbia, for the general public to become aware of and interested in the condition of our manned space program. We can dwell upon the labyrinth of tile problems and other “single point of failure” components, but in the end the truth is clear: America needs a new way to get people into space.

NASA has made many attempts to build a successor to the space shuttle. But as the X-33 fiasco showed, NASA needs help. It is time to admit, NASA, that your “not made here” attitude has ruined many private spacecraft ventures: Beal Aerospace, Kelly Space, Kistler Aerospace, Rotary Rocket Company, and Pioneer Rocketplane, just to name a few. These companies could have saved the American taxpayer billions of dollars and freed up funds for your work in exploration.

It is time to outsource your work. Completely. Give a bid out to a company, any company, and let them design and build passenger and cargo spacecraft, as well as specialized spacecraft for government and civilian use. Don’t pay them a red cent until they’ve built and flown the thing at least three times. Make them build multiple prototypes, so if one crashes, there are backups. That’s how new cars and ships and airplanes are designed and tested. Your job, NASA, would be to guarantee the spacecraft builder a customer.

The Russian Space Agency has suspended flights for space tourists during this time of emergency. But the tourists will come back. Every news poll to date proves that people still want to visit space. And the Russians need the cash, badly. If the US Congress balks about dealing with them, then Congress needs to put their money where their mouth is and invest in a new space vehicle. If anything, Congress should authorize funding for a space vehicle competition. Americans love competition, and they become their best when the stakes are high. Offer prizes for first, second, and third contenders, with no more all-or-nothing competitions.

The space shuttle fleet is still a useful and powerful national resource. But the space shuttle is not perfect--it never was. The shuttles are old, and advancements in materials, engines, and avionics have surpassed the 1970's design. It is time prepare for a new generation of spacecraft, spacecraft that are specialized, low cost, and reusable.

I still believe I will travel into space in my lifetime. But the way there is through private ventures. NASA needs to focus on cutting-edge research and scientific exploration of our universe--mapping out the road to the stars--and leave the driving to us.
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Sam Coniglio 6 February 2003
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