Los Angeles, CA, May 6, 2003 – Challenging testimony by NASA Administrator Sean O’Keefe, the Space Frontier Foundation called on NASA to transform itself into a customer for private enterprise, rather than a competitor. O’Keefe told the Senate subcommittee overseeing NASA’s budget, “We will pursue activities unique to our mission – if NASA does not do them, they will not get done. If others are doing them, we should question why NASA is involved.”
Citing several recent announcements of privately financed space vehicles, the Foundation’s Rick Tumlinson asked: “If private enterprise is developing this capability with its own money, why is NASA wasting billions to pay government contractors to design a spaceplane specifically for NASA? NASA should transform itself into a customer for private spaceplanes, instead of a competitor. The agency should buy rather than build, when it comes to future transportation from the Earth to space.”
The Foundation pointed out that a number of new and innovative commercial firms are investing in developing vehicles to fly humans and payloads into sub-orbital space. Famed designer Burt Rutan recently rolled out his Space Ship One in Mojave, California. Jeff Bezos of Amazon.com has reportedly made a large investment in a suborbital spaceship. Elon Musk of PayPal fame is building a commercial rocket system, and the entrepreneurial firm XCOR recently flew their EZ-Rocket test bed live in front of hundreds of thousands of people at the Oshkosh air show. The Foundation believes that with NASA offering to be a customer for rides and payload delivery, these companies could continue all the way to orbit.
“Giving NASA managers and government contractors who have failed over and over again billions of dollars to design and build a spaceplane specifically and only for NASA’s use is the old way of doing things,” Tumlinson said. “We don’t need one Orbital Spaceplane, we need many spaceplanes. We shouldn’t be laying off astronauts, we should be opening the space frontier for more Americans. If this is done right, NASA can get all the transportation it needs, save billions in taxpayer funds, kick start a huge new industry and along the way, the people will at last get a chance to go into space themselves.”
The Foundation is calling on Mr. O’Keefe to keep his promise to transform NASA and act “as only NASA can” to make real changes. Rather than competing with private enterprise, the Foundation urges NASA to replace government development contracts with launch service purchases, flight data purchases, and competitive prizes for spaceplane development.