Washington, D.C., June 16, 2004 – The Space Frontier Foundation called the Aldridge Commission Report on returning to the Moon, and sending humans to Mars, a rhetorical breakthrough, that could well lead to changes in how the nation accomplishes spaceflight and space exploration activities. The Report, released today, is titled “A Journey To Inspire, Innovate and Discover,” and was named after the head of the nine-member Commission, former U.S. Air Force Sec’y Edward (Pete) Aldridge. It acknowledges a core goal of permanent human presence in space, and endorses a broad range of innovative ideas, many of which could open traditionally government-run space activities to the private sector.
“This report is a huge step forward in human space exploration,” said Foundation Founder Rick Tumlinson. “It begins a new discussion about who should be doing what in our nation’s quest to open and settle space. Ever since the Foundation’s inception 16 years ago, we have been calling for the unleashing of the power of free enterprise. The Commission seems to have grasped this concept.” The 60-page Report calls for NASA to change its organizational structure and management processes, “all largely inherited from the Apollo era,” to fulfill President Bush’s multi-decade space exploration agenda announced earlier this year.
The Foundation believes the Commission is right on target in most of its Report. It agrees that the Report statements, calling for NASA to not only utilize commercial space transportation providers, but to support the growth of new space firms to catalyze a new space industry, are exactly the right things to say. However, the Foundation sees major discrepancies between the rhetoric of commercial firms taking over the job of carrying payloads from Earth to Low Earth Orbit (LEO), and the commissioners’ endorsement of NASA’s building its own heavy lift vehicle while excluding the private sector from providing the government with passenger services to space.
“Their recommendation that ‘human space flight is to remain the provenance of government for at least the near term’ is particularly galling, and out of step with emerging reality,” remarked Tumlinson. “The incredible irony is that this comes at a time when the only American currently scheduled to fly into space on a U.S. vehicle is going to do so next week, on Burt Rutan’s privately financed SpaceShipOne rocketship.”
The Commission’s call for the use of prizes, including data purchases, to save money and stimulate innovation is also music the Foundation’s ears. But, it is skeptical that the agency will adopt such ideas when it comes to larger goals that come into conflict with the vested interests of their own constituencies, within NASA and its prime contractors.
“It sure would be nice if NASA had such plans,” explained Tumlinson. “Unfortunately right now the agency is looking into prizes of up to a few hundred thousand dollars each, for things like a better astronaut glove, which is trivial.” Meanwhile, the agency just announced it is going to build a Lunar Orbiter for more than a billion dollars. According to the Foundation, they could buy the data for a fraction of that amount or offer prizes for private groups to collect it, saving taxpayers hundreds of millions in wasted funds and helping to develop a new space industry.
Concluded Tumlinson, “At least some people in government have learned to talk the talk; sadly we are still quite a way from having a government that can walk the walk.”