Foundation Calls NASA Commercialization Effort “A Costly Joke”

Foundation Calls NASA Commercialization Effort “A Costly Joke”

February 2, 1997 Press Releases

Los Angeles, CA, February 2, 1997 – Citing a recent study on NASA’s efforts to open the space station to commercial users, the Space Frontier Foundation said today that the agency is not only not helping American firms do business in space, but has been blocking such efforts for years. The $400k study, by the nonpartisan Potomac Institute, was commissioned by one of two high level NASA managers in charge of space station commercialization efforts who have since left the job in frustration. It found the space agency is actively discouraging, and at times sabotaging efforts by businesses to operate in space.

Rick Tumlinson, the Foundation’s President, stated he believes this behavior is hurting the nation two ways: “The line NASA’s PR machine puts out about supporting commercial firms in space is a joke. Not only are these turf driven bureaucrats costing taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars by doing things that American industry could be doing cheaper, better, faster, they are costing the nation our future on the frontier, by blocking the birth of new industries in space that could eventually be worth billions and employ people all over the country.

The report was based on over 150 interviews with companies of all kinds that dealt with the agency over the last decade or who had tried to take part in the space station program. These firms ranged from entrepreneurial start ups trying to take over such low tech tasks as transporting space station waste, to giants such as Johnson and Johnson, who want to experiment with new drugs in the space environment. According to the Potomac Institute researchers, the results were an almost universal thumbs down on NASA’s efforts to support new enterprises on the frontier.

The Foundation says the report shows NASA leadership is snubbing White House and Congressional mandates to reduce space spending by “reinventing government” and spinning off any activities better handled by commercial firms: “This is outrageous behavior in an administration that tells the people it is working to save tax dollars and create opportunities for citizens to take over jobs now handled by government workers. Who is NASA working for, itself, or the American people?”

He continued: “This is exactly the opposite of President Clinton’s pronoun cements that the government should be a good partner to industry. Many NASA managers see the private sector as a threat, not a potential partner. What’s worse is that our allegedly free enterprise oriented Congress let’s the agency get away with this. It’s as if the mystique of space has them all hypnotized.”

In conclusion, Tumlinson pointed out: “There’s a reason there is no economic boom in space. NASA’s bureaucracy has killed it. To the right stuffers at the agency, space is theirs. Period. They do not want the great unwashed to play in their sandbox, and they don’t give a damn what it costs in today’s tax dollars or tomorrow’s lost opportunities for the American people.”

“The great irony here is that the agency shouldn’t be trying to run the space station at all. Let’s face it, the station is actually nothing more than a building in space, and they are explorers, not landlords and definitely not business people. It should be handed to the private sector to turn into an economic and scientific research and development center. This would then free up hundreds of millions of dollars that could be used to do the exciting things NASA was created to do, and what many NASA employees want to do, such as exploring Mars and the Solar System and developing new leading edge technologies by flying X-vehicles. It’s time to get NASA back on track and out on the frontier. Lewis and Clark have done their job here in the Earth’s neighborhood. Now we must let the shopkeepers and entrepreneurs take over.”