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Panel Warns NASA On Commercial Astronaut Transport 319

Posted by kdawson
from the let-me-carry-that-for-you dept.
DesScorp writes "In a blow against the commercial space industry, a federal panel warned NASA not to use private companies to ferry astronauts into space. While the Obama Administration wants to outsource some NASA activities, insiders at the space agency are resisting any moves to use commercial alternatives. The Wall Street Journal reports that the Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel 'cautioned that the private space companies rely on "unsubstantiated claims" and need to overcome major technical hurdles before they can safely carry astronauts into orbit. The report urged NASA to stick with its current government-run manned space ventures, and said that switching to private alternatives now would be "unwise and probably not cost-effective." The findings are likely to provide a boost to NASA officials who want to keep nearly all manned space programs in house.' Private companies such as Lockheed Martin and Boeing argue that they're capable of human transport in space safely and at competitive costs."
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Panel Warns NASA On Commercial Astronaut Transport

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  • Re:Bad bad idea (Score:5, Interesting)

    by joeyblades (785896) on Friday January 22, 2010 @10:14AM (#30858934)
    Do you think NASA invents all of the technology that goes into space exploration? A large portion of that technology already comes from third parties. NASA is more of a program management function than a developer.
  • by elrous0 (869638) * on Friday January 22, 2010 @10:20AM (#30859020)
    And, considering NASA has been relying on private contractors to build their vehicles for years, it seems a little suspicious that they would suddenly come out against private contractors when they want to move to the next logical step and actually launch the vehicle they built (and hence steal NASA's big PR moment).
  • by mcgrew (92797) * on Friday January 22, 2010 @10:44AM (#30859266) Homepage Journal

    All that money that nasa is spending is invested in making things as safe as possible. Rocket science really is rocket science. If you're not spending that money, you have to expect your safety to go to hell.

    Except the rocket scientists and engineers mostly work for Lockheed Martin and Boeing and other private corporations, who actually build the vehicles and subsystems.

  • by FlyingBishop (1293238) on Friday January 22, 2010 @10:56AM (#30859382)

    Where is the profit motive? Human space travel, while it does involve engineering, is really pure science of the highest order. All we're doing is asking the question "What will happen if we send a person into space?" and doing it. It's simply too expensive to be a worthwhile commercial endeavor. As such, free enterprise doesn't make sense. It's something that a purely business attitude simply cannot understand.

    Now, of course what we're talking about is separating those parts that business can understand and using business for that, but it still just seems wrong. You've got two different people talking totally different languages, one of "How can we do this?" and one of "What if we do this?"

    Yeah, I'm a bit of an idealist, but I think the what if people should be holding the keys at the management levels. Someone needs to bring them down to Earth occasionally, but you need people who aren't afraid to waste money if you want to do anything interesting. Are such people in charge at NASA? I don't know, they're probably the same managerial types at the aerospace firms. But I don't see why shifting the managerial focus to commercial enterprise will do anything to advance pure science.

    Unless of course your goal is to kill pure science in the aerospace field.

  • by couchslug (175151) on Friday January 22, 2010 @11:02AM (#30859462)

    NASA clingeth mightily to its rice bowl...

    IMO it's time to offload manned missions and stick to actually _exploring_ space with probes and rovers and other remote-manned tech. Manned missions have created a burden that sucked other programs dry, but the lust of those who want to play in space can make commercial outfits viable.

    We don't _need_ people in space before we perfect exploring it with the remote-controlled systems we absolutely require anyway to interact with an utterly hostile environment. Development cycles for remotely-manned vehicles can be much shorter (avoids the decades-long burden of old Shuttle tech) allowing "launch early, launch often".

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 22, 2010 @11:13AM (#30859610)

    this report is political trash. lies.

    you'll have to spend many hours getting up to speed on this topic, but suffice it to say NASA employs 10,000 people just to screw in a light bulb, and the political clout acting to keep them happy and working is significant.

    NASA is no better than private companies or other countries.

  • by ppanon (16583) on Friday January 22, 2010 @04:20PM (#30862992) Homepage Journal

    but there frankly isn't much more you'd do to safeguard a volunteering person than you'd do for a billion-dollar unmanned probe representing years of work by huge teams.

    That depends. If you're needing to launch a dozen or more of those billion dollar "unmanned probes" (or spy sats in the case of the military/intelligence agencies) then it may be more cost effective to self-insure by mass producing an extra one or two to compensate for a 10% failure rate instead of trying to bring the failure rate for one or two less launches down to 0. That's what happens when heavy lifter launches cost >$100 million (or nearly $0.5 billion in the case of the shuttle).

The flow chart is a most thoroughly oversold piece of program documentation. -- Frederick Brooks, "The Mythical Man Month"

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