Los Angeles, August 26, 2003 – Responding to the Columbia Accident Investigation Board’s report, the Space Frontier Foundation today urged the government to foster competition for NASA, and end the Agency’s monopoly on U.S. manned spaceflight.
“NASA had a chance to reform after losing a Shuttle in 1986,” pointed out the Foundation’s Executive Director, Tony DeTora. “The new accident report shows that many of the same habits which killed Challenger were still around to doom Columbia. There need to be fundamental changes in the way NASA operates or it’s only a matter of time before we lose Atlantis or Discovery.”
The Foundation believes the agency will not make major changes in its way of doing business. Instead it will try to get Congress to spend billions more tax dollars to develop yet another new vehicle using the same contractors and management teams that have failed to make space travel cheaper, faster and safer for the last 20 years. As an alternative, the Foundation reiterated its recommendations provided to the White House as part of the ongoing space policy review. It recommended that Washington foster a new commercial industry for human spaceflight, to provide affordable, frequent and safe space travel.
“The CAIB report is an indictment of NASA’s ability to build and operate a space transportation system. The shuttles have failed to fulfill any of the promises made by the agency, so why should we let them continue to waste money and risk lives?” asked Foundation Founder Rick Tumlinson. The Foundation urged that government should never again design, buy or operate manned spacecraft, any more than it should operate airlines or build 747s. “NASA should learn to be a spaceflight customer, and stop trying to be a provider – and a socialist monopoly at that.”
Under the Foundation’s proposal, money currently spent on the Shuttle would be converted into financial incentives to foster a new spaceship industry that could serve both government and commercial markets. The organization believes there are many firms that would respond to a potential multi-billion a year market (the cost of 3-4 shuttle flights). Such competition would result in raising safety standards, and many more flight opportunities for science, industry and passengers, as well as dramatically lowering the cost of fulfilling NASA’s own needs. But they fear inertia and the NASA contractor culture will kill any hope of change, unless Congress and the White House force it to happen.
“NASA is already preparing to repeat its unacceptable response after the first Shuttle tragedy: shuffling around the same managers, firing no one, pretending to reform, and then doing the same old things,” Tumlinson pointed out. “This is as unacceptable as it is predictable! The White House and Congress must demand NASA do more than just rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic.”