Los Angeles, CA, September 1, 2006 – The Space Frontier Foundation said that NASA is repeating the errors of the past in its rush to select a contractor for the Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV), and will waste billions of taxpayer dollars to send the CEV to the International Space Station (ISS) when ISS services could be purchased commercially from U.S. industry at much lower cost and greater benefit to the nation.
“Here we go again,” said Rick Tumlinson of the Foundation. “With lots of fanfare and ballyhoo, NASA announced its latest idea to waste billions of dollars in order to keep the cash flowing to a few major companies and political districts. This is not Apollo on steroids as NASA calls it, it is a dinosaur on steroids – and like them it is doomed to extinction – except this project might take NASA down with it.”
The $3.9 billion CEV contract, with options for another $4.2 billion, is being awarded under the usual cost-plus system of government contracting, which builds in the all the wrong incentives. For example, it will reward winner Lockheed Martin Corporation (LMC) for spending the maximum amount of money rather than paying for the successful delivery of a single payload or astronaut to space. It also sets up a huge multi-billion dollar program to compete with low-cost commercially-oriented approaches to do the same thing, such as NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation to Space program (COTS). The COTS program, loudly touted by the agency as showing its support for private sector approaches to space transportation, allocates a relatively small $485 million to two private firms to build vehicles to service the International Space Station (ISS) – a job also included in the CEV project just given to LMC. Each COTS winner is receiving less than 10% of the funding that will be received by LMC. To the Foundation, this is not a level playing field.
Tumlinson pointed out, “Administrator Griffin repeatedly demanded that the COTS competitors put their own skin (money) into the game, and they did. SpaceX and Rocketplane-Kistler have committed over $200 million and $400 million, respectively, to build their innovative commercial crew and cargo systems.” He continued: “How much skin in the game has Administrator Griffin demanded from Lockheed? I can tell you the answer right now – not a dime. There is a game going on here to be sure – and it’s rigged.”
On July 25, 2006, the Foundation released a white paper titled Unaffordable & Unsustainable, signs of failure in NASA’s Earth-to-orbin Space Transportation Strategy, which recommends that NASA focus the CEV on going to the Moon, and that all of NASA’s current budget problems can be solved by eliminating plans to send the CEV to the ISS. Furthermore, the white paper points out that NASA is undercutting the economic justification for investment in private ventures for ISS crew and cargo systems by setting the CEV up to compete against them.
“NASA should buy the ride, not the rocket,” said Tumlinson. “Companies should not be paid for their efforts, but for success. If NASA were to pay for people and cargo delivered to Low Earth Orbit (LEO) rather than rewarding the highest cost development effort, competition would drive costs down, saving money for everyone. There would be more money available for exploration, commerce and science – not less. Then, NASA can focus on getting from the Earth to the Moon.”
On July 26th, the day after the Foundation released its white paper, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) of the U.S. Congress also criticized NASA’s CEV plans, saying “NASA’s current acquisition strategy for the CEV places the project at risk of significant cost overruns, schedule delays, and performance shortfalls because it commits the government to a long-term product development effort before establishing a sound business case.”
The GAO said it was too early to decide the prime contractor for the CEV. But NASA is ignoring the GAO, and is ignoring all advice to consider a smarter way. “In summary, NASA’s plan is Ready, Shoot, Aim,” stated Jeff Krukin, Executive Director of the Foundation. Krukin said, “Dr. Griffin is rushing ahead and ignoring NASA’s long history of repeated failures and cost overruns. He is ignoring external valid criticism, is ignoring the interests of the American taxpayers, and oddly, ignoring the mandate he was given by the President – to open space permanently to the American people.”