Griffin Speaks But Will Anyone Listen?
By Michael Mealling
Between Mike Griffin's recent speech to the AAS and his recent comments on design and operations I think that he probably means what he says and is probably as good as we're going to get on space commercialization. The questions still left outstanding for me are the following:
1) Mike has said several times that “as commercial service stand up, NASA will stand down”. But a move from government to commercial services isn't a binary operation. There is a transition period during which equity markets need a very firm committment that NASA will actually either purchase the service or will discontinue its own service. The current Administrator may have a personal committment to do so and has said as much with regard to commecial crew and cargo to ISS. But the Architecture as currently instantiated creates an expectation on the part of several congressional districts that their pork is secure. How will an Administrator tell the congressperson from Utah that the ATK contract is being cancelled in favor of a commercial service? Is there a way to make the stand down a legal requirement that gives a commercial provider legal recourse?
2) What happens after Mike is gone? As I've discussed before, one of my largest concerns is that the hardware and lunar return portions of the ESAS architecture have overshadowed, and in some sense “swallowed”, the other non-NASA parts of the Vision. If we end up with a Democratic President in 2008 that gets rid of Griffin along with all of the other Bush appointees, will the Architecture, and thus the commercialization aspects of it, be swept out with him? The Architecture is already seen as Griffin's personal intepretation of the VSE. If he is gone in a little over 2 years are we back to square one? Or even square zero?
I think my solution to both of those problems would be legislative. Something written into law that sets a particular test that a private company must accomplish. Once they've passed that test then NASA is required by law to use that service within two years of the company passing the test. One of the biggest issues would be who gets to write the test criteria since “fly an exact replica of the CEV as NASA designed it using the same number of employees and processes” wouldn't accomplish anything.
Congressman Dana Rohrabacher recently submitted HR 1021: The Space and Aeronautics Prize Act which outlines several prizes run outside of NASA itself. I think that bill could easily be tweaked to provide for the requirement that NASA make significant use of the systems/products of whoever won the prize. Or possibly that within 4 years after a prize is won NASA must be purchasing 100% of anything in that category from commercial providers.
I also think its important to note that while I whole heartedly support HR 1021, that doesn't mean I think that the Centennial Challenges budget should have been cut. I can understand the budgetary reasons for why they were cut but I think they should be restored somehow once the NASA Authorization bill passes later this month.
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