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NASA Space Science

NASA To Propose Commercial Space Initiative 151

MarkWhittington writes "The Wall Street Journal is reporting that starting with the FY2011 budget request for NASA, the Obama administration intends to propose a new program to encourage the development of a commercial space flight industry. 'The controversial proposal, expected to be included in the Obama administration's next budget, would open a new chapter in the US space program. The goal is to set up a multi-year, multi-billion-dollar initiative allowing private firms, including some start-ups, to compete to build and operate spacecraft capable of ferrying US astronauts into orbit—and eventually deeper into the solar system. Congress is likely to challenge the concept's safety and may balk at shifting dollars from existing National Aeronautics and Space Administration programs already hurting for funding to the new initiative. The White House's ultimate commitment to the initiative is murky, according to these people, because the budget isn't expected to outline a clear, long-term funding plan.'"
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NASA To Propose Commercial Space Initiative

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  • by Dr. Spork ( 142693 ) on Monday January 25, 2010 @06:16PM (#30896872)
    This is just another step in the hollowing out of the state. Private firms already fight our wars. What's next, private firms taking over the "service" of governing the country? Oh wait...
  • by timmarhy ( 659436 ) on Monday January 25, 2010 @06:16PM (#30896878)
    how about you just let private enterprise go to space or not, and just get out of their way? government $ is the last thing we need to give the private sector at this point.
  • that's bogus (Score:1, Insightful)

    by swschrad ( 312009 ) on Monday January 25, 2010 @06:16PM (#30896888) Homepage Journal

    you don't have enough cash in the till to run NASA now, and there's going to be more shrinkage to give to private contractors? that's not change, that's more of the same!

  • by jollyreaper ( 513215 ) on Monday January 25, 2010 @06:24PM (#30896988)

    How many shuttle successors have come and gone? And the whole Aeres thing looks like it's fixing to be another clusterfuck.

    It seems like the current government agency/government contractor model of development and procurement is broken. The same boondoggles we see in the military are repeated pretty much across the board. I know they say not to ascribe to malice what can best be described by incompetence but it seems like there's usually malice and greed at work here. The government will sign a very lucrative contract with a company that will then have massive cost overruns, fail to deliver on time and thus draw even more funds to eventually deliver a poorly-designed piece of shit that cannot do what was requested of it.

    Sometimes you can blame the government for screwing things up. The shuttle was promised to do too many things for too many people and the engineers were left with trying to make the best compromise they could. That was the government's bad. And the whole Ares bit, that sounds like a government bad, too. NASA got all turned on by the idea of reusing shuttle tech and saving bundles on false economies and it was the contractor's fault for not disabusing them of this notion. Engineers both at NASA and the contractor probably knew better but management would have been unwilling to listen, obviously, or else we wouldn't be in the situation we are now.

    The thing that really kills me is the contractor's motivation as a business is maximizing revenue from the contracts and thus maximizing profits. It's not in their interest to be on-time and on-budget. And it's also not in their own interest to offer cheaper, better solutions. So we get this perpetual game where they promise the moon for low prices and NASA pretends to believe them and the costs spiral and until projects are canceled. I would see that as a complete failure but the business would regard that failure as a profitable venture and thus a success. Therefore, there's no incentive for them to do things any differently!!! Argh.

  • The right way (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Skal Tura ( 595728 ) on Monday January 25, 2010 @06:25PM (#30897004) Homepage

    to go about it. Commercialising helps to drive costs down, as an goverment program, being the only one capable to do, without a drive to use commercial sector for it's operations, NASA is inherently flawed: No ultimate, inherent need to drive costs down. Businesses survive only by driving costs down, and down, further down. Businesses have to get their base cost down in order to be profitable, in order to survive.

    Yes, definitely businesses will cut corners etc, but not at the expense of human lifes, as that would mean end of business for them. Space endeavours are really tight on safety, and despite a company being able to do way cheaper than anyone, if it's not safe, they will not gather good business.

  • by macintard ( 1270416 ) on Monday January 25, 2010 @06:31PM (#30897068)
    I make this post with the caveat that I usually fall more toward the left on the political spectrum. To me this seems like an area where the private sector could greatly assist this government program and possibly help reduce cost to the taxpayer. This also seems to comport with my belief that our President is really more of a middle of the road politician, as opposed to the "leftist" that we consistently hear. Let's give it a chance and see what happens.
  • by Trepidity ( 597 ) <delirium-slashdo ... g ['kis' in gap]> on Monday January 25, 2010 @06:31PM (#30897074)

    Yeah, as can be seen with the horrid, corrupt mess that constitutes the defense-contracting business, this approach gets you the worst of both worlds. On the one hand, you have no real market forces, because everything is funded by guaranteed government dollars--- in most cases, even cost overruns above the original contract amount get charged directly back to the government, not eaten by the company that generated the overruns, so there's no incentive not to generate them. On the other hand, you have none of the transparency and oversight that at least nominally you can get with government-run things; e.g. FOIA requests do not apply.

    If the private sector wants to go to space, let the private sector go to space. If the government wants to go to space, let it go to space. But the government paying for the private sector to go to space makes no sense.

  • Yeah, given recent SCOTUS decisions, the government is now available to the highest bidder. Expect to see the power and privileges of multi-national corporations skyrocket, while the little guys get the shaft. I expect that Disney will buy up all our national parks. Everything will be privatized, and the uber-corps will make sure all public services are illegal. Private police forces, fire departments, roads: everything. And if you can't pay, don't expect help. Those who can't pay will be expected to starve to death, like stray dogs in the streets.

    The funny thing is that some people on the right still think Obama is a socialist. He's the opposite of that. He's going to make sure health care reform dies a messy and painful death, and he's going to sell off the government to the highest bidders. He showed his real colors when he kowtowed to Wall Street.

  • Re:The right way (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Trepidity ( 597 ) <delirium-slashdo ... g ['kis' in gap]> on Monday January 25, 2010 @06:37PM (#30897138)

    Businesses in the private sector, selling actual products or services to actual end users, do indeed have incentives to drive costs down. But businesses contracting for the government do not, as can be seen by the money-pit that constitutes the defense-contracting business.

    In fact, the opposite is true: businesses contracting for the government have a strong profit incentive to drive costs up.

  • I would love to see the world through you eye just for a day.

    No, you probably wouldn't.

  • Re:The right way (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 25, 2010 @06:51PM (#30897260)

    PRICE is not same as COST.

    Let's give a real-world example that's had time to play out. In California Proposition 13 was supposed to benefit renters because it would drive taxes down, and with lower property taxes well OF COURSE the landlords would pass this savings on to the customers. A lower COST would naturally result in lower PRICE right? BZZZT wrong the landlords pocketed the difference and kept rents aligned as always with incomes and WHAT THE MARKET WILL BEAR.

    Also I recall this ame argument about the inherent self-interest in long-term profits would make for perfect financial markets. Didn't work out so well did it? Even Alan Greenspan had to admit in front of Congress that his "model was flawed" when it came to just the natural tendency of businessmen to build in quality. They in fact cut corners here and there, and over there.... until kaboom. The tendency in self-regulation of a market that is stable for a while is like the people on the top floor a building stealing wood from downstairs to burn in their fireplace. It works fine right up until the building collapses.

  • by bughunter ( 10093 ) <bughunter@@@earthlink...net> on Monday January 25, 2010 @06:55PM (#30897314) Journal

    Fine. Let them do it with their own astronauts, and with their own money. Nothing's stopping them.

    What troubles me is when we decide to throw away a nearly 50 year tradition of manned space excellence with a better than average track record and replace it with contracts to commercial space companies who have been making more promises than results for the past 25 years.

    Only Orbital and SpaceX have made it past the "Step 2" phase, and they both had to learn the hard way that the space biz is exceptionally technically challenging and extremely risky, both technically and financially.

    When there's a real financial incentive to be in space (e.g., mineral rich asteroids or selling water on the moon) then for-profit companies will succeed. Until then, they're just a vehicle to privatize what is otherwise be a government research function.

  • by jellomizer ( 103300 ) on Monday January 25, 2010 @07:12PM (#30897510)

    You know there are some things that Private Companies can do better then the government. Some things the government can do better. And then there are things that companies can do well with the correct regulations.

    For some things the government does creates a lot of red-tape and a lot of trying to please the right person and a lot of compromises in order to get everyone happy or at least equally unhappy. Companies have a more direct approach to this, less politics and more getting the job done. So they can make a profit and complete the project under budget.

    However... Private firms are focused a lot of keeping profits high and costs low, which could effect quality. For that case you will need government control or at least regulations/oversight to make sure that nothing critical is being cut or skimped on.

    Then there are other tasks such as maintenance wich has a defined job this can run will with government control such as Trash,Water, Sewer etc...

    So it is really the right organization for the right job. I personally hate the Politics of saying X is better then Y... It is about getting the right balance.

  • Noble Pursuits (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MrKaos ( 858439 ) on Monday January 25, 2010 @07:32PM (#30897776) Journal

    I hope my American friends don't take this out of context but I really hope that one day the people of America regain control of their country from the vested interests that are controlling it.

    What seems to be the state of the union at the moment is a parody of the original goals set down as the purpose of America for American people and indeed all freedom loving people. I don't mean a hippy commune where we all hold hands and sing kom-by-yah but real freedom as opposed to the image of freedom, real democracy instead of the lobbying for vested interests that occurs today and real capitalism instead of the propping up of the "Too big to fail"s. Somehow the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness has been converted to the pursuit of wealth because money must mean all those things, right?

    I don't see it as a political issue anymore more but a series of structural issues designed to deceive and contrived to limit choices. Even Benjamin Franklin said the constitution, as it was framed, would not stop the U.S being a victim of despotism. Perhaps it's a day when Americans accept discomfort for things that are important and real. Noble pursuits.

    I hope you don't think I'm a troll, because I'm sincere about missing the nice America who used to be a champion of freedom. It will be a truly awesome and frightening thing to watch a people finally regain control of their country.

  • by CodeBuster ( 516420 ) on Monday January 25, 2010 @08:37PM (#30898560)

    Yeah, given recent SCOTUS decisions, the government is now available to the highest bidder.

    If the government wasn't so darn powerful then there wouldn't be as many or as high bids and yet the Libertarians here on Slashdot are always modded down for having the temerity to suggest that bigger government is not the answer. One cannot have lots of individual choice and freedom in a big government country; the desire to use the power of big government to limit choices, "manage" freedoms and control outcomes is simply too much for some to resist. The high-minded left often forgets or ignores the fact that not everyone is as altruistic or benevolent as they claim to be and that human nature absolutely will misuse the levers of power given the opportunity; so why magnify the damage by increasing the size and reach of those levers?

  • As if government is the only source of power. Democratic government is a check on the power of powerful, nondemocratic groups. Just getting rid of government would allow the powerful to control everything. It would NOT magically balance a very unbalanced system. It would make things much worse.

    Money is a VERY big lever of control. In fact, beyond a certain dollar amount, all money does is allow you to control others. The more money you have, the more power you have. The more power you have, the more money you can make. Money does not need to be funneled through government to be used to control others. If you are starving you aren't really free at all, and you can be controlled by anyone with a bite to eat. Without government, the powerless have NO recourse.

  • by jpmorgan ( 517966 ) on Monday January 25, 2010 @08:58PM (#30898802) Homepage

    So? What's the problem with using motors designed originally under contract for the government? It's great that SpaceX have accomplished what they did, but would the expertise and knowledge that they relied upon exist, had the government not contracted for the development of rockets like Titan and Atlas?

    The government is one of the biggest customers, and one of the few organizations able to front the enormous R&D cost of such items. But now that the R&D has been done, let the commercial sector do the boring work and let NASA start looking at grander ventures.

  • by CodeBuster ( 516420 ) on Tuesday January 26, 2010 @01:17PM (#30906634)

    Most recent polls show a supermajority of the population supports radical health care reform and socialized medicine.

    No way. That's completely bull. The Massachusetts election is only the most recent proof that Americans absolutely don't want socialized medicine ala single-payer or individual mandates. It was a mistake on the part of the left to assume that because many Americans favor some sort of health care reform, they also favor socialized medicine ala single-payer; THAT WAS IN ERROR! There is no way that so many Americans, from such diverse and varied backgrounds, could all be so clearly against the Democratic bill if it was simply astroturfing by big pharma and the insurance companies. Incidentally how do you explain Coakley's attendance of a big-money fund raiser in Washington DC, on the eve of the election, jammed packed with pharma and insurance lobbyists? She took her thirty pieces of silver from the very people you claim to detest. Ask yourself this: If a supermajority of Americans favor radical health care reform then why are Obama and Pelosi back-peddling like crazy after the Massachusetts election? Americans favor radical health reform and socialized medicine...yeah right.

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