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NASA Businesses Space

NASA May Outsource 219

Posted by kdawson
from the let-a-thousand-rockets-bloom dept.
The Wall Street Journal is running a piece about the growing momentum behind the idea of NASA outsourcing to private companies everything from transporting astronauts to ferrying cargo into orbit. Quoting: "Proposals gaining momentum in Washington call for contractors to build and run competing systems under commercial contracts, according to federal officials, aerospace-industry officials and others familiar with the discussions. While the Obama administration is still mulling options and hasn't made any final decisions, such a move would represent a major policy shift away from decades of government-run rocket and astronaut-transportation programs such as the current space-shuttle fleet. ... In the face of severe federal budget constraints and a burgeoning commercial-space industry eager to play a larger role in exploring the solar system and perhaps beyond, ...a consensus for the new approach seems to be building inside the White House as well as [NASA]. ... Under this scenario, a new breed of contractors would take over many of NASA's current responsibilities, freeing the agency to pursue longer-term, more ambitious goals such as new rocket-propulsion technology and manned missions to Mars. ...[T]hese contractors would take the lead in servicing the International Space Station from the shuttle's planned retirement around 2011 through at least the end of that decade."
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NASA May Outsource

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  • by el_tedward (1612093) on Sunday August 23, 2009 @03:20PM (#29165489)
    I think the main reason for this was because they didn't fully understand how Martian weather would affect the rover. They thought the solar panels would just get covered in dust after a certain period, but it turned out that the dust just ended up getting blown off.
  • by vlm (69642) on Sunday August 23, 2009 @03:46PM (#29165677)

    Well, for example: Forget hardware like the Spirit Mars Rover (build to last few months, but still working after two years) if you outsorce the manufacture.

    Too late, spirit was an outsourced project. Oddly enough, the wikipedia page for Spirit/MER-A has no manufacturing details. But the main MER project page is believed accurate:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mars_Exploration_Rover [wikipedia.org]

    Nasa outsourced the whole project to JPL to manage and generally run. The Wikipedia page details whom JPL subcontracted to for various parts... for example, the aeroshell exterior capsule thingy was outsourced to Lockheed. IBM-Federal made the radiation hardened CPU chip, but their division got sold around and was part of Lockheed at one point.

    Anyway, the whole point is that no spacecraft that I'm aware of, at least for the past 40 years, have any components made by NASA... NASA does not "do" anything, other than distribute budget to various contractors.

    Those are the facts. As for opinion, I believe there are no personnel accepting paychecks from nasa that have ever touched a soldering iron, screwdriver, welding torch, or milling machine...

  • Re:horrible idea (Score:3, Informative)

    by Dolphinzilla (199489) on Sunday August 23, 2009 @04:16PM (#29165945) Journal

    you are absolutely spot on - federal employees make less than their contractor counterparts - and your numbers are about right - but this is one of the reasons it is a screwed up system - do you think the best and brightest go work for NASA or the better paying jobs with their subcontractors ?

  • Re:horrible idea (Score:4, Informative)

    by El Torico (732160) on Sunday August 23, 2009 @04:55PM (#29166237)

    One important difference - the contractors actually work while the GS-14s (and other grades) spend their time arguing with each other, taking breaks and long lunches, and changing their minds every five minutes.

    I'd rather work directly for a military officer in some godforsaken FOB in Durkadurkastan than a civilian GS in a safe, comfortable office in CONUS.

    Actually, the big move right now is to fixed price contracts. The Government found out that most of their COTR's are incapable of managing contracts.

  • by UncleTogie (1004853) on Sunday August 23, 2009 @06:12PM (#29166799) Homepage Journal

    Care to link to a reliable source for that quote?

    Sure, how about a video where he said just that during a townhall meeting concerning healthcare? Link here. [youtube.com]

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 23, 2009 @06:25PM (#29166917)

    you fail to take into account all of the inefficiencies inherent in the bureaucracy. Government agencies are full of positions that exist just for the sake of a relative or friend. Many times to create said jobs more regulations and red tape are put into place just to justify someones job.

    Capatilism, with all of its faults, is still the bet thing going. PROFIT is NOT a bad thing. Personal gain is one of the most powerful forces in existence, and when we allow people to compete in a free and open market everyone wins. If someone gets too greedy then a competitor can swoop in and take over, look at what is happening to microsoft and apple. We just have to make sure that no monopolies are created in the process! free and open standards, and unfettered access to information make sure that the playing field is fair and level.

    If we can get a few companies involved in the space program i think that it will be greatly beneficial in the long run. I feel more comfortable with the lowest bidder taking over space then the people with the biggest weapons.

  • Re:Ugggh (Score:4, Informative)

    by Bluesman (104513) on Sunday August 23, 2009 @08:45PM (#29167787) Homepage

    I'm as pro-competition and free market as anybody, but contracts just don't work that way. Much of the work is so specialized that only one company is able to fulfill the contract. For example, Northrop Grumman is the ONLY company that is able to overhaul aircraft carriers, so they get every contract. The barrier to entry is impossibly high for potential competitors. The contract is so large that it essentially grants a monopoly to the winner. The losers can't stay in business long enough to compete.

    The contracts are also massive. The contractors aren't competing to supply welding materials, they're competing for things like, "overhaul this aircraft carrier and replace the reactors," that are pretty much written so that one company is guaranteed to be awarded the contract. It's a happy coincidence that those companies have high-level officers who have plenty of buddies in D.C. and factories in as many key congressional districts as possible.

    This is a best-case scenario, assuming there are no back-room deals and shady hook-ups going on, which would be a miracle.

  • Re:What irony (Score:3, Informative)

    by damn_registrars (1103043) <damn.registrars@gmail.com> on Sunday August 23, 2009 @10:03PM (#29168359) Homepage Journal

    He wants to nationalize heathcare and privatize NASA

    Doesn't it seem to be a contradictory statement to both accuse the president of nationalization and privatization in the same breath?

    To say nothing of the fact that single-payer health care has been dead (in terms of the current legislative session) for over a month now.

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